No pressure Todd, but it's time to deliver
Todd Blackadder has already stated that he doesn't feel under any extra pressure to win this year's Super 15 rugby title.
Predictably, fingers have been pointed at the Crusaders coach for his failure to mastermind a championship success since he took over as head coach four years ago. In that time, the Crusaders have reached the semifinals every year and lost to the Reds in the 2011 final in Brisbane.
Given the wealth of talent available to Blackadder, with 14 former or current internationals - including Tasman's Samoan halfback Jeremy Su'a - named in this year's squad, people are again asking questions about the Crusaders' inability to equate talent with title success.
Under different circumstances, they might have achieved it in 2011 but after the devastation caused by Canterbury's earthquakes, the Crusaders were forced to travel for every game.
It required a remarkable display of resilience for the travel-weary squad to even reach the playoffs yet their 18-13 loss to a classy Reds team in the final proved one tough assignment too many.
With New Zealand's involvement in this year's Super series beginning tomorrow, speculation about the Crusaders' title prospects remains as topical as ever. Ironically, they have this weekend's bye and begin their campaign in next week's third round against the Blues in Auckland.
Realistically, the Crusaders' chances of claiming their eighth title are no more clear cut with each of New Zealand's other four franchises staking equally strong claims.
The champion Chiefs have a title to defend and are looking well equipped, even if they're not attracting any obvious favouritism for a repeat performance. The Blues' chances appear as fickle as the Auckland weather but there's plenty of talent for new coach Sir John Kirwan to potentially mould a side worthy of contention.
The Highlanders have recruited well and now have five World Cup All Blacks in their ranks while the Hurricanes again have a keen attacking edge.
But Blackadder's under pressure. He might not be feeling it and he certainly won't be letting external influences affect his team's preparation, but he must know that his coaching reputation is on the line.
It might not seem fair but the expectations on a squad including the likes of Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Israel Dagg and, eventually, Richie McCaw are immense and it's Blackadder's role to finally get one of the competition's most talented lineups across the line.
The manner of execution will be just as important and, along with player welfare, probably the key ingredient in determining the team's fate. He might not admit it but Blackadder will certainly be feeling the pinch.
The Nelson Mail