Crotty-Smith showdown looms large in Levin
Ryan Crotty is unapologetic about the radical shake-up of the Crusaders' pre-season programme.
Gone are the summer camps, hunting and fishing forays and whacky adventure races; they have been replaced by more rugby-specific drills, strategy meetings and discussions how to win matches.
Midfielder Crotty hopes the revamped schedule, which he believes is already proving to be the right decision, translates into a win when he leads the team against the Hurricanes in tonight's pre-season match in Levin and victory over the Chiefs in their Super Rugby opener in Christchurch a week later.
Crotty, 25, was a member of the leadership group that endorsed the decision to sacrifice some off-field activities.
"It's about more emphasis on the rugby stuff and more on the performances in the pre-season games so that we are straight into it. We are way ahead of where we were last year and the year before at this time of the season."
The idea is to ensure the Crusaders don't make the mistake of starting slowly and suffering early losses - as they did against the Blues and Hurricanes last season.
As a result some cross-training and fitness programmes have also been scrapped.
Last year the squad bonded by participating in a race across the central South Island, swapped them for their guns and fishing rods and later swapped yarns during an overnight stay in Hanmer Springs. This time they have remained in Christchurch.
Crotty believes the sooner the Crusaders fit their game-faces, the quicker they start accumulating wins. He also says the talk of the team being slow starters is only half the story.
"The perception is that we always finish well but that's not the reality. We have also slipped-up in the final or semifinals (since last winning the title in 2008)."
Crotty, who made five test appearances last season and was preferred as a replacement centre by coach Steve Hansen, will tonight mark veteran All Blacks No 13 Conrad Smith.
Although Crotty has played the majority of his career at second five-eighth - a position filled by Tom Taylor tonight - he wouldn't state which spot he wanted to lock down.
"I'm happy with either. I have really enjoyed playing centre, at the end of last year (on the All Blacks tour) was really fun and added something to my game I think.
"All you have to do with the All Blacks is do your role, nothing else besides that."
Since returning from the tour, where he scored the injury-time try against Ireland to ensure the All Blacks ended their year unbeaten, Crotty has fielded plenty of questions about that deed over the summer.
"I guess you get asked about it a lot but it's hard to take credit for when other players have made it happen. I would like to say the try was from 30-40m out but the reality is (the final pass by Dane Coles) set me up for 2m to go and an open line."
Regular captain Kieran Read will not play. He will also be rested from the Chiefs match. All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will make his first appearance off the bench.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Johnny McNicholl, Ryan Crotty (c), Tom Taylor, Nafi Tuitavake, Colin Slade, Willi Heinz, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett: Reserves: Corey Flynn, Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala, Sam Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Jordan Taufua, Andy Ellis, Tyler Bleyendaal, Rob Thompson, Zac Guildford, Reynold Lee-Lo.