Super Rugby preview: Crusaders

Date published: February 11 2013

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Crusaders!

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Crusaders!

As the tournament's most successful franchise, there will be pressure on the Crusaders to add to their tally of seven title wins. Achieving that goal will be easier said than done as they will be without the services of legendary captain Richie McCaw, who is only poised to return to action in July from a six-month break.

Last Year: Their exit, in the semi-finals, is regarded by everyone connected to the Christchurch-based franchise as a failure and coach Todd Blackadder will be determined to get his team back to the top of the Super Rugby tree. Their form fluctuated during the early stages of 2012 but they seemed to hit their straps with a four-match winning streak. Things imploded, however, when they suffered a shock 28-19 loss to the Rebels in Round 12. The following week they took their anger out on the Blues, registering a convincing 59-12 win which was their biggest of the season. After reaching the play-offs, where they beat the Bulls, they were knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual champions the Chiefs.

This Year: Despite winning more Super Rugby titles than any other franchise, the Crusaders last won the competition in 2008. Last year's loss in the semi-finals and their defeat to the Reds in the 2011 final means that Blackadder will be under pressure to deliver the goods this year. The franchise's former skipper has bolstered his backroom staff by appointing Tabai Matson and Aaron Mauger as his new assistant coaches. The duo guided Canterbury to ITM Cup glory in 2012 and will be expected to repeat that magic on a bigger stage. The 2013 campaign suffered a setback – before it started – when All Blacks wing Zac Guildford was forced to take an indefinite break from the game due to yet another off-field incident. When on form, Guildford is one of the game's best finishers and it remains to be seen how his absence affects the team. The Crusaders' season doesn't kick-off until March 1 with tricky away matches against the Blues and the Hurricanes. Their tour to South Africa will also be intriguing as they will be up against the Stormers and Sharks who have been two of the competitions strongest teams in recent seasons.

Players to watch: With regular skipper Richie McCaw only poised to return to action in July, from a six-month break, new captain Kieran Read's leadership skills will be closely scrutinised. Although Read has captained the side before, this season will be different as it will be over an extended period and it will be interesting to see how the leadership role affects his form. Amongst the backs, Dan Carter and Israel Dagg are players who will be expected to provide the attacking spark. The duo are arguably the best players in their respective positions when on song.

Noteworthy signings: Jeremy Su'a, Shane Christie and Jordan Taufua (all Tasman), Johnny McNicholl, Dominic Bird (both Canterbury)

Noteworthy losses: Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors), Quentin MacDonald (Blues), Zac Guildford

Prospects: Although they should be challenging for honours, they will be weakened by the absence – for most of the tournament – of McCaw. But by the time the World Cup winner returns they should be on course for another shot at the title.

1 March: v Blues – Away
8 March: v Hurricanes – Away
16 March: v Bulls – Home
23 March: v Kings – Home
30 March: v Stormers – Away
5 April: v Sharks – Away
13 April: v Force – Away
20 April: v Highlanders – Home
28 April: v Rebels – Home
5 May: v Brumbies – Away
18 May: v Blues – Home
24 May: v Chiefs – Away
31 May: v Waratahs – Home
29 June: v Highlanders – Away
5 July: v Chiefs – Home
12 July: v Hurricanes – Home