The Crusaders have announced the recruitment of fly-halves Marty McKenzie, Ben Volavola and Richie Mo’unga for their 2016 Super Rugby campaign.
The trio will compete for the starting number 10 spot at the Crusaders next season. The Christchurch-based franchise confirmed the three new signings to replace the departing Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor.
Maori All Black Marty McKenzie will move south from the Chiefs, returning to the city where he spent the final two years of secondary school.
Born and raised in Southland, McKenzie moved from Gore High School to Christchurch’s Christ’s College for years 12 and 13 and played in their first XV for both seasons.
He then returned south to make his ITM Cup debut for Southland in 2011.
In 2013 he was contracted by the Blues; in 2014 he made the New Zealand Sevens team and helped Taranaki to their ITM Cup Premiership title; and in 2015 he joined his brother, Damien, at the Chiefs.
Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder believes 2016 will be an opportunity for McKenzie to stamp his mark at the Crusaders.
“One of Marty’s strengths is his versatility, with the ability to play almost anywhere in the backline as well as kick goals," he told the Crusaders' official website.
"We see him primarily as a first five and know that he is keen to get more playing time in that position.
"He was outstanding at first five for Taranaki last season and, at just 22 years of age, there is plenty of untapped potential in him yet.”
McKenzie and Mo’unga will be team-mates in 2016, but were playing first XV rugby against each other just five years ago.
Mo’unga has been contracted to the full squad after spending a season developing his trade in the Crusaders Wider Training Group. Blackadder said Mo’unga has been in the Crusaders’ sights for a while now and is ready to make the step up.
“We’ve been watching Richie develop since he was representing St Andrew’s College in the Crusaders region secondary schools competition.
"It was clear then and it still is now that he is a special talent and we look forward to helping him continue to grow his game and build his experience,” Blackadder said.
Volavola is moving from the Waratahs to join the Crusaders next season.
Blackadder said assistant coach Tabai Matson had suggested the Australian-born Fijian would be a valuable addition to the squad, as an athletic fly-half with impressive pace and a handy kick.
“We are excited about the potential we can see in Ben," said Blackadder.
"He has all of the makings of a great player and is itching to get some more game time to show what he’s got.
"Ben is in Fiji at the moment training alongside Nemani Nadolo to try and earn a spot in the Fijian Flyers Rugby World Cup squad, so he will have at least one familiar face here when he joins us next year and we are sure he’s going to fit into our environment really well.”