New faces arrive as Crusaders stalwarts go
Canterbury's Jordan Taufua, Nepo Laulala, Dominic Bird and Counties-Manukau's Jimmy Tupou should be among a raft of newcomers unveiled by the Crusaders today.
While the four forwards are expected to be listed in head coach Todd Blackadder's Super Rugby squad, several faces will be missing.
They include All Blacks prop Ben Franks, who has signed with the Hurricanes, hooker Quentin MacDonald (Blues), loose forward Joe Wheeler (Highlanders) and wing Patrick Osborne (Chiefs).
Wing Sean Maitland, whose NPC campaign with Canterbury was cut short because of a finger injury, will leave next month to play for Glasgow Warriors and is eligible to represent Scotland.
Openside flanker Brendan O'Connor, a Crusaders wider training group member this season, has signed with the Blues.
Southland prop Nick Barrett and Hawke's Bay lock Ross Kennedy, who were members of this season's squad but never played, are understood not to have been offered contracts.
Blackadder has also been given a dispensation by the New Zealand Rugby Union to select an extra man to cover the absence of Richie McCaw, who will not return from his sabbatical until early July.
Recruiting a backup to openside flanker Matt Todd has been imperative and means Tasman's Shane Christie, who was this week named in the Maori All Blacks team to tour the United Kingdom, should be named.
Flanker Tupou will back up George Whitelock following Wheeler's decision to link with the Highlanders, while Luke Whitelock is another alternative to relieve his older brother or Kieran Read, who will captain the Crusaders, at No 8. The addition of Taufua, who shone during his stint as a loan player with Tasman before being recalled to Canterbury, gives them another ball-running back rower.
Despite skipping Otago's NPC campaign to play in Japan, former All Black Tom Donnelly will return to join Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Bird as an option at lock.
Although Sanzar will not allow teams to extend their bench to eight substitutes, which in effect allows them to name an extra prop, it is expected the majority of franchises will select five props.
Finding experienced props has been a major challenge for all franchises and it is expected a raft of rookies will need to be blooded.
Losing Ben Franks, whose ability to play both sides was a valuable asset, could be keenly felt by the Crusaders.
While this will guarantee internationals Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks are regular starters, it also increases the heat on the coaches to develop second-tier props such as Laulala and Joe Moody.
MacDonald was also being chased by the Chiefs but opted to head to Auckland where he will deputise for All Black Keven Mealamu. Tasman prop Tim Perry impressed the Crusaders this season but also signed with the Blues as new coach John Kirwan flashed his cheque book.
Former All Blacks and Crusaders lock Brad Thorn has signed with the Highlanders, while another ex-Crusaders lock Ross Filipo has linked with the Chiefs.
The Crusaders are also expected to appoint new backs and defence coaches or combine the positions, early next month.
- The Press