Super Rugby Review: Crusaders

Date published: July 25 2016

With the Super Rugby semi-finalists now decided we take a look at the teams who missed out on the final four. First up, it's the Crusaders.

The Todd Blackadder era came to an end last week with the head coach moving on, like several of his players did at the end of last season.

After eight seasons in charge he bids farewell to Christchurch but of course not in the way he would have liked, with a Super Rugby title.

When the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Colin Slade, Nepo Laulala and Tom Taylor left the franchise, some were concerned about how the team would cope in 2016. But such is the conveyor belt in Christchurch that several players have come in and shone, notably Richie Mo'unga.

Mo'unga, Jordan Taufua, David Havili and Codie Taylor all had good campaigns while Israel Dagg returned to his best form, which deservedly earned him a recall to New Zealand's squad. Elsewhere wing Nemani Nadolo was again a threat while Scott Barrett stood up very well at lock.

Despite finishing fourth in the New Zealand conference, three points adrift of the table-topping Hurricanes, Blackadder's men won the same number of games as the 'Canes, Highlanders and Chiefs (11). They scored 65 tries – the third most in the regular-season – and played some superb rugby along the way. The classy Mo'unga ended on 179 points – including their quarter-final – and will learn from his debut season.

Learn is what many of this young team will need to do as players as the departures don't stop with the head coach, with Nadolo, Andy Ellis,  Johnny McNicholl and Kieron Fonotia set to be missed next season. Again the Crusaders simply must produce players who are ready to hit the ground running and the Mitre 10 Cup is the platform for youngsters to do that, with wing definitely an area they'll be keen to strengthen.

It would be unfair to view 2016 as a failure for the seven-time champions as many expected a period of transition after big names moved on.

They performed well throughout this campaign and were only undone – after making the long journey to South Africa – by a refreshed Lions XV in the quarter-final. There is no shame in that but perhaps their biggest test comes in 2017 when new coach Scott Robertson arrives in the hot-seat. He brings his own ideas and already being familiar with the surroundings is a major positive for the Crusaders. A new era awaits.

Best player: A tough call as several stood up well in different spots of the campaign. Jordan Taufua was a physical presence, Codie Taylor was busy around the field, Scott Barrett announced himself to Super Rugby while Israel Dagg was unstoppable at times. But we go for Richie Mo'unga, who had sizeable shoes to fill and did so well at fly-half. At 22, expect Mo'unga to grow and grow as a playmaker. Such a talent.