Kieran Read tips arduous crusade
A fresh-faced Crusaders outfit kicks off its Super Rugby pre-season in Timaru on Saturday against the Hurricanes, with Kieran Read predicting another "bloody tough" campaign ahead.
The Crusaders have been without a title for four years, which is unusual by their high standards, but Read is warning that this year's campaign could be the hardest yet.
"I think our [New Zealand] conference is really tough to win so that makes it hard. Away points are not easy to come by, which makes home wins crucial."
Read is pleased how the nine fresh faces in the squad have handled the buildup.
"We have 30, or however many in the squad, who have trained hard and are really keen to get a start so the competition is really healthy."
None of the Crusaders All Blacks will play on Saturday but Read believes that just allows others an opportunity.
"It gives a number of them a chance to impress."
Read said the positive thing was while the Crusaders had not won the competition for four years the team was "there or thereabouts".
"We have a few things to work on but no-one can sit back, every game is important."
Read said while it will be a big challenge, it was an exciting one.
Also helping the team this year was the fact it would have a permanent home for the whole season. He would not predict who might make the semifinals as that was too far off.
"I don't think there are easy teams to beat in the competition, things have changed."
Read joked they would have welcomed back lock Brad Thorn.
"We would have found a spot for him but he has other challenges, obviously."
He was pleased with the way new assistant coaches Aaron Mauger and Tabai Matson had fitted in.
"They have brought some new ideas and reinvigorated the pre-season."
Mauger believes the side has no lack of motivation.
"We are certainly up for it but it will be tough. All the New Zealand teams have quality players and quality coaches.
"There is a scattering of All Blacks in all the franchises."
While the loss of Richie McCaw was huge, Mauger believed it just offered another player a chance.
"I guess you would say Matt Todd is the incumbent but Shane Christie had a great ITM Cup for Tasman and is in great nick so I am looking forward to seeing him go."
On the plus side, the Crusaders were fortunate to have a versatile backline with tough competition for starting places.
Mauger said the pre-season games were important. ‘We will really start to see where we sit compared with the other teams."
The Crusaders play three pre-season fixtures, with the game in Timaru first, followed by the Highlanders in Oamaru on February 8, then the Waratahs in Sydney on February 14.
The draw for the competition proper has not offered any favours, with a first-round bye, followed by away matches against the Blues and Hurricanes, which means the Crusaders' first home match, against the Bulls, is not until March 16.
Read and several of his teammates were in Timaru yesterday as part of the team's commitment to the franchise area.
Crusaders squad: Dominic Bird (lock), Tyler Bleyendaal (five-eighth), Dan Carter (first five-eighth), Shane Christie (loose forward), Wyatt Crockett (prop), Ryan Crotty (midfield back), Israel Dagg (outside back), Tom Donnelly (lock), Andy Ellis (halfback), Corey Flynn (hooker), Owen Franks (prop), Robbie Fruean (midfield back), Ben Funnell (hooker), Willi Heinz (halfback), Nepo Laulala (prop), Tom Marshall (outside back), Johnny McNicholl (outside back), Joe Moody (prop), Kieran Read (loose forward, captain), Luke Romano (lock), Jeremy Su'a (halfback), Jordan Taufua (loose forward), Codie Taylor (hooker), Tom Taylor (five-eighth), Matt Todd (loose forward), Jimmy Tupou (loose forward), Adam Whitelock (outside back), George Whitelock (loose forward), Luke Whitelock (loose forward), Samuel Whitelock (lock).
The Timaru Herald