New zealand Opinion Rugby super rugby

HOW TO IMPROVE A WINNING SIDE- A Potential 2021 Crusaders Squad

With the Mitre 10 Cup start and the end of Super Rugby Aotearoa fast approaching, I thought it would be good to have a look into just what each franchise needs. This is the second part of a five-part series, today looking at the Crusaders.

THE LOWDOWN

Unlike the other New Zealand sides, the Crusaders are settled. Regardless of whether they win Super Rugby Aotearoa, the Crusaders are by far and away the best side in New Zealand. In 2020, they have been as good as always, the only real blip the defeat to the Hurricanes last week, although the Chiefs did beat them before the Pandemic. They are an absolute juggernaut, so there won’t be too many changes. Up-front, expect all three hookers to be back next year, as Codie Taylor settles in the leadership group. I was surprised to learn Makalio was signed up for next season, as he could certainly get more game time elsewhere. At loosehead, Joe Moody will be back, and there is no reason he won’t be joined by his fellow loosehead, George Bower, Isi Tu’ungafasi and Harry Allan. There is every chance one leaves though. At tighthead, they Michael Alaalatoa, who has been in career-best form but at just shy of 29, his peak may well be short-lived. He is off contract, having just signed for Manawatu he looks to be staying in NZ, but no announcement has been made about a Crusaders contract. The other option is a 25-year-old Oli Jager, who is not quite of the desired level to start. At lock, they are by far the strongest in the country, with the likes of Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Quinten Strange, Mitchell Dunshea and Luke Romano. I would not be surprised to see Romano leave, whilst Whitelock can’t have too many years left in the legs. One would also assume that one of Dunshea or Strange will move on in 2021 or 2022, in a search to become a starting lock elsewhere. The Crusaders have a decent contingent of loose forwards, who are certainly super-powered by Scott Robertson. Ethan Blackadder, Whetu Douglas, Sione Havili, Tom Sanders, are fine, but through a combination of ability and age, they probably lack the potential to go to the next level. Cullen Grace is one for the future and the now, and could well be the long term No. 8. At blindside, Tom Christie looks like an All Black in waiting, while Billy Harmon has struggled to make an impact. With him off contract, he may well be told his future is elsewhere. Chances are, One or more of these will either leave next year, or the year after so loose forward could be a place to strengthen. At scrumhalf, they have three good number nines in Bryn Hall, Mitchell Drummond and Ere Enari. All are signed on for next season, so no worries there. First, five is slightly more interesting. With arguably New Zealand’s number one first five in Richie Mo’unga, they don’t have to worry about a starter. Their backups are a real issue. Brett Cameron has been extremely underwhelming, and David Havili has been favoured at ten over him. Cameron has to leave for the good of his career. Young Fergus Burke will continue learning his trade. In midfield, they have the classy pairing of Braydon Ennor and Jack Goodhue, but interestingly Goodhue is off-contract. Whilst he is likely to re-sign, it may include a sabbatical to Japan, but also he could just straight-up sign overseas, or even sign for another Super Franchise. They also have Fetuli Paea and Dallas McLeod who look sharp, as well as Inga Finau although he is 25 and is probably not up to the level of the others. I think a second-five could be in the offing. Into the Crusaders arguably most stacked positions, the outside backs. David Havili, Will Jordan, George Bridge, Sevu Reece and Leicester Fainga’anuku are all locked in for next year. Manasa Mataele will surely depart. They will need to be careful, as, for the good of his career, Leicester Fainga’anuku will surely head off in 2022. Likewise, David Havili may well look to cash in overseas as he hits his peak.

WHAT THEY NEED

With this in mind, the Crusaders will be in the market, although they don’t need anything drastic. I believe the Crusaders will be looking for a tighthead prop, a lock, an openside and blindside flanker, a first five, a midfielder and an outside back.

THE SEARCH

The Crusaders are famed for making talent- not buying it. At tighthead, they will be looking for “the next guy” Ultimately, I could go into depth recommending guys people have heard of, but ultimately that is not what the Crusaders will target. They will target a young, hard-working, skilful player, who has All Black potential. Scott Robertson is a wonderful coach, so quite frankly whoever the Crusaders go after is a fairly good chance to sign. This guy may well just be a 19 year old with bags of potential, or they could be a 22, 23-year-old who can challenge Jager and Alaalatoa now.

Option: M10 Cup Prospect

Once again at lock, it is much of a shame. Although, the lock the Crusaders target, will more than likely be a lineout lock. Whoever fills this position will be very young, as they are unlikely to play. In all likelihood, the player will be from Canterbury or Tasman.

Option: M10 Cup Prospect

At flanker, the Crusaders may well look to someone who has played at Super Rugby level and can come in and make an immediate impact. For me, there are two options. Both are off-contract Hurricanes players. First of all, is Vaea Fifita. Once the next big thing amongst NZ loose forwards, Fifita’s stock has fallen massively. Fifita is merely a bench player in the capital now, and with his contract coming to an end a move south could be a good move for all parties. At 28 Fifita is older than many realise, but he could come in and under the right tutelage of Scott Robertson and make a big impact. The other option feels a bit more far-fetched. In all likelihood, the reason Gareth Evans has yet to re-sign with the Canes is he is looking at a move offshore. Evans is a very good Super Rugby player, having gone from strength to strength in the capital, which saw him earn an All Black cap in 2018. A hard-nosed player, Scott Robertson would love Evans who turns 29 on Wednesday. Both would be decent short term options, whilst they will also look to bring in another openside flanker- Slade McDowell seems a logical option if he can’t secure a Highlanders contract, especially if he can build on a strong Mitre 10 Cup last season. 

Option: Vaea Fifita and Slade McDowell

Richie Mo’unga is arguably in career-best form, so whoever comes in will merely be a backup. In the next part of this series, I will be mentioning Brett Cameron with a shift to Wellington, so with both the Hurricanes first fives off-contract, I feel Jackson Garden-Bachop could be the perfect man to come in as an understudy. The 25-year-old has been good at times this season, and has a strong kicking game, with a real ability to close out a game. A move to Christchurch would certainly be one that would bring him a trophy of some sort. This feels logical.

Option: Jackson Garden-Bachop

In midfield, the Crusaders have millions of centres, but no real second fives. Jack Goodhue does the job, and he will continue to play there. If Goodhue was to go down, then utility back David Havili would likely move infield. There is a dearth of midfielders in New Zealand at the moment- especially second fives. I feel the Crusaders once again would be best served in securing a young guy who can grow into a world-class player. I don’t have a player in mind, nor a type of player. This will simply be a guy who stands out at the level below.

Option: M10 Cup Standout

Finally, in the outside backs, the Crusaders are stacked. The castle is likely to fall over in a year, as one or two of them look to move to pastures new. This season, Manasa Mataele is likely to depart, so a new winger will be in order. A left-field option could be Southland youngster Josh Moorby. Moorby is more of a fullback, but regardless he was a bright spark in a struggling Southland side. If Moorby can put up another strong season, then he could very much be an interesting option for the competition front runners.

Option: Josh Moorby

THE FINDINGS

After an extensive amount of research, I feel that one of the loosehead props will move on, potentially Harry Allan. Luke Romano is also likely to depart, whilst I feel Billy Harmon could be shown the door. Brett Cameron will move on for his good, while one way or another a new midfielder will come in. Finally, the once highly rated Manasa Mataele will almost definitely depart at the end of the season. As replacements, the Crusaders will look to top performers in the Mitre 10 Cup. These could include youngsters Slade McDowell and Josh Moorby, whilst an established name like Vaea Fifita could be an option in the loose. Finally, Jackson Garden-Bachop could be the perfect first five backup.  

2021 SQUAD

Joe Moody, George Bower, Isi Tu’ungafasi, Codie Taylor, Andrew Makalio, Brodie McCallister, Michael Alaalatoa, Oliver Jager, M10 Cup Prospect Tighthead Prop, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Mitchell Dunshea, Quinten Strange, M10 Cup Prospect Lock, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Sanders, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili, Vaea Fifita, Tom Christie, Slade McDowell, Bryn Hall, Mitch Drummond, Ere Enari, Richie Mo’unga, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Fergus Burke, Jack Goodhue, Brayden Ennor, Fetuli Paea, Dallas McLeod, M10 Cup Standout Second Five, Sevu Reece, George Bridge, Will Jordan, David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Josh Moorby

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