Wednesday, February 21, 2024

OPINION: Crusaders hone champions

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No Super Rugby team can match the Crusaders for identifying player talent and honing it to All Black status.

That’s why they’ve got about a dozen internationals with the prospect of adding Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor and Will Jordan to the list.

It won’t all happen this Rugby World Cup year but explosive Fijian wing Reece could be leading the charge after his dynamic two-try form in the 36-10 thrashing of the Lions highlighted his speed and power.

Reece has that x-factor that made Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo so special when at the peak of their powers.

With Rieko Ioane cementing the left wing berth, Ben Smith did a fine job on he right wing last year. However he remains our best fullback despite the brilliant two-try performance of Jordie Barrett in the Hurricanes 47-19 walloping of the Chiefs.

Versatile Crusaders George Bridge and Jordan are others who can cover wing and fullback with Bridge scoring twice when coming off the bench in his All Blacks debut last year.

Having given powerful Northlander Jack Goodhue the polish to become a splendid All Black centre, the Crusaders have also seen former St Kents student Ennor star in the role on the few occasions he has been tried there this year.

It helps if Ryan Crotty is your second-five, but Ennor’s speed and sweetly timed pass make him a genuine attacking centre who can set up his wings and fullback for tries.

With David Havili capable of playing fullback and both midfield positions, the Crusaders are truly blessed for backline options. As are the All Blacks.

For example if they want to retain Ben Smith on the right wing, they could move Beauden Barrett to fullback and play Richie Mo’unga at first-five. Or play Jordie Barrett at fullback and keep Beauden at first-five.

One to shine in a well beaten Chiefs team was the multi-skilled Anton Lienert-Brown who outplayed the powerful Ngani Laumape. A pity his team-mates failed to give him the support he deserved.

Meanwhile with No 7 Ardie Savea playing magnificently for the Hurricanes, no clear candidate has emerged for the No 6 jersey retired international Jerome Kaino wore so proudly despite plenty of competition from Shannon Frizell, Vaea Fifita, Tom Robinson and injury prone Liam Squire.

However a strong case could be made for workaholic lock Scott Barrett who is unlikely to start in his preferred position ahead of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

As the fourth ranked lock, Patrick Tuipulotu has gone well for the Blues and Tom Franklin reminded everyone of his talent with a huge performance for the Highlanders in their impressive 52-0 thrashing of the Sunwolves.

Meanwhile with eight wins from 10 games, the Crusaders top the Super Rugby table on 39 points, seven clear of the second placed Hurricanes who have won one game less.

The Crusaders have scored 300 points, just 18 more than the Hurricanes. However their defence has conceded just 153 compared with the Hurricanes 245.

Egg on my face. In picking my greatest Silver Ferns netball team last week I chose Rita Fatialofa as my wing defence. Rita did play there occasionally but wing attack was her favourite position.

Having proved my incompetence as a netball critic, maybe I should beware of the fate that awaits a fox caught in a hen house.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author

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