Knowler: Crusaders' best chance goes begging
Nothing will remain the same for the Crusaders' squad of 2014.
The moment last Saturday night's Super Rugby grand final ended the squad started to disintegrate: Corey Flynn and George Whitelock will soon join clubs in France and Japan, respectively, and Tyler Bleyendaal will relocate to Ireland after Canterbury's national provincial championship season.
Things move quickly in the professional rugby industry and, after five months of playing alongside each other and meeting at trainings, gossiping on the golf fairways and travelling on tour, it is unlikely this group of men will be in the same room again.
Whitelock didn't travel to Sydney with other non-playing squad members to watch the final, having flown to Glasgow to watch wife Kayla represent the New Zealand hockey team at the Commonwealth Games.
Nemani Nadolo is scheduled to leave Christchurch to rejoin his Japanese club this week, presumably not before he has agreed to re-sign his deal with the Crusaders for next season as promised, and Andy Ellis will also soon go to Japan to earn a suitcase of cash before making a delayed return to the franchise.
Losing in Sydney would have emotionally wounded Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder but he and his assistants will have to quickly re-boot their rugby brains and start scrutinising the 2015 calendar.
The reality is that even before they travelled to Sydney to meet the Waratahs at ANZ Stadium, the franchise's management team has started planning for next season which, because of the World Cup, will provide its own unique set of challenges.
At some point All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will meet with the five Super Rugby coaches to ask how they plan to "manage" their internationals. He is likely to request that Blackadder caps appearances made by some of his key All Blacks.
World Cup year is tricky. Compromises will be required.
At least there is no likelihood of the unpopular conditioning programme, which involved Graham Henry withdrawing his key All Blacks from the opening half of the Super Rugby competition in 2007, being reintroduced.
That alienated too many people - players, coaches, broadcasters and commercial partners.
Everyone wants the All Blacks to defend the Webb Ellis Cup. But no coach will want to sacrifice their Super Rugby title aspirations.
That is what makes the 33-32 loss to the Waratahs so tough to accept.
In the lead-up to the final everything seemed to have been in perfect alignment. The refreshed Dan Carter was in peak physical shape, Richie McCaw was back from injury and their fellow All Blacks were fully focused on winning a Super Rugby title.
McCaw and Carter will be a year older and that means injuries may become more frequent.
Others such as Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Israel Dagg will also be eyeing the big prize in England and Wales.
Everything becomes so much more difficult in World Cup year.
The knowledge of what lies ahead just adds to the frustration of leaving the Super Rugby trophy behind in Sydney.