Crusaders squad 2021

Overall, this seems like a strong Super rugby Crusaders squad.

Particularly pleased with the propping group. It doesn’t quite have the same strength in depth as the Blues (with four current test props), but a starting front row of Moody, Taylor and Alaalatoa should hold up well against them. Bower and Jager (who finally started to look the part in the few bits I saw of him in M10 Cup) a decent bench, and a nod to the future with some strong young contenders in Tu’ungafasi, Newell and Williams. In fact, the Canterbury front row was one of the few consistently impressive parts of their NPC team.

No change in the hookers. Would be nice if Codie Taylor comes back in better form. Makalio a strong option off the bench and McAlister should be developing nicely for the future.

If the Blues are edging us in the propping department, we should do the same to them in the second row. Whitelock and Barrett a starting All Black combination, Strange and Dunshea on the AB fringes and Romano a powerful and experienced 5th option. Razor talked him up as a potential onfield coach.

The loose forwards aren’t quite as impressive on paper - lots of potential, not so much delivery. In fact, it’s hard to say what the top combination will be. I suspect that Razor might start with Grace, Christie, Sanders (a tyro All Black and the other two started for the South Island), but there’s very little between Christie and Sione Havili (Player of the Year for the national champions). Ethan Blackadder has had terrible luck with injuries, but has been a dominant figure at NPC level, despite that he’s not a big 6/8. On form, Whetu Douglas might be shuffled down the pecking order and have to bide his time. We might also see Dunshea play in the loosies at some point.

No change in the halfbacks. The old firm of Hall and Drummond, with Enari as the promising youngster. I’d like to see Enari step his game up significantly this year if he’s to be the way of the future.

No change among the first fives either. Remains a significant point of weakness if Mo’unga gets injured. However, Fergus Burke has probably improved and Brett Cameron even had a couple of decent games for Canterbury when the heat was on at the end. Started to look like a decent NPC first five.

Midfield also seems a bit thin with Ennor injured and apparently gone for the season. I’d be inclined to pair Havili and Goodhue, which is potentially more dangerous than Goodhue-Ennor, with Jack at 13. Burke, McLeod and Fainga’anuku behind these guys are more promising than inspiring of confidence. I’d rather have had Fetuli Paea as a back up centre.

Outside backs are absolutely laden with firepower. I think we’ll start with Big Leicester, Sevu Reece and Will Jordan - but, with Bridge, Mataele, Fihaki and Punavai in the wings and Havili also around to play fullback.

XXIII for game 1:
Moody, Taylor, Alaalatoa, Whitelock, Barrett, Grace, Christie, Sanders, Hall, Mo’unga, Fainga’anuku, D. Havili, Goodhue, Reece, Jordan

Makalio, Bower, Jager, Strange, S. Havili, Drummond, Burke, Fihaki

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