Having promised a revitalised approach to their play this year the Crusaders failed to impress in their opening match of the 2013 Super XV, slumping to a heavy loss at the hands of the young Blues side and forcing coach Todd Blackadder to immediately re-jig his backline.
Tom Taylor donned the number 15 jersey at Eden Park, pushing All Black fullback Israel Dagg on to the wing, with Adam Whitelock filling the other outside back position. This week both Taylor and Whitelock drop to the bench, with Dagg returning to his preferred spot at the back, and Tom Marshall and Johnny McNicholl running the flanks.
The team which played the Blues was in keeping with the Crusaders’ selection policies in recent years, with Blackadder and his colleagues preferring to pick players with high work rates and proven consistency above those with out-and-out x-factor.
But having promised to re-invent the wheel as the Crusaders seek to break a four-year string of qualifying for the playoffs without capturing the title, Blackadder’s side was outplayed by an exciting Auckland side which was bursting at the seams with flair and excitement.
The team to meet the Hurricanes this weekend appears better balanced. Dagg is able to create far more from 15 than he can when stuck on the wing, and while Tom Marshall is similar to Whtielock and Taylor when on attack McNicholl is a genuine threat on the wing, with an eye for the try-line and true finishing ability.
The Crusaders will face a stern test this weekend against a Wellington-based side desperate to get its campaign off the ground following two disappointing losses, but at least they’ll run out on to Westpac Stadium with their best possible team on the park this week.