The Crusaders squad has been named for some time, but for those of you who didn't pay much attention (me included) this is forÖ us.
Props - Greg Feek, David Hewett, Chris King, Greg Somerville - OK before you have a hernia, I am listing the guys in alphabetical order, not starting order!
You have got to feel for Chris King! It doesn't matter how well he played in the NPC, fighting against all that AB history will make it hard to get a starting position. Not that Feek is a spring chicken, he must be getting near to his use by date! In fact the only reason that he is still around is that he has stopped giving away so many penalties.
Feeky has injuried himself in the 1st warmup game, and Somerville is still building up from his shoulder surgery. The team have actually brought in another NPC player Campbell Johnstone, for the 2nd game, donít know how they will go if they need him for the 1st competition game, can you add to your squad?
Dave Hewett and Somerville for ABs again this year - that's what we like to see!
Hooker - Cory Flynn and Mark Hammett - We might see Hammett pushed a bit this year, Flynn is as puppy eager as you could want in a young forward (that's bull-terrier/ pig-dog cross in case you were wondering) and Hammettís time as NPC Co-Captain raised more questions than it answered.
At least Hammettís throwing wasn't an issue on the AB's memorable NH tour! And no wonder as he wasnít even there! Was it a neck or shoulder injury? My mistakeÖ he doesnít have a neck!
Locks - Chris Jack, Norm Maxwell, Brad Thorn, Bryce Williams - heem, I almost listed Brad Thorn in the Fullback category for a laugh! (Last minute replacement for Ben Blair? my left testicle!-) It will be interesting to have him back, and to see what he can do.
Bryce Williams down from Auckland, will he flourish like the last forward Auckland didn't want? He had better if he wants any game time. Both have started (and apparently played well) in the warm up matches as Jack and Maxwell are recovering from injuries.
Chris Jack is the most skilled tall player I have ever seen, not counting basketballers. He has made Norm look like a meat-head... well OK Norm makes himself look that way, but now this appears his major skill. Mongrel is fine, but I thought that mongrels were generally more intelligent than pure-breds?
Don't get me wrong, Norm is still worth his weight in gold (well maybe silver), those hits he does are incredible, and he works damn hard the rest of the time. Hopefully he really wants the AB selection and we will see him at his best. I read that he is doing some more conditioning training, like he did a couple of years ago during the NPC, hope that it has the same result Ė super Norm!
Loose forwards - Sam Broomhall, Johnny Leo'o, Richard McCaw, Matt Mustchin, Scott Robertson, Rueben Thorne (co-captain) - its a tight squeeze in there. Certainly I now see why Brad is returning as a lock!
Iím not sure why but Iím still not certain about Broomhall. I think it is because I havenít seen anything really special from him, certainly not enough to justify his ABs selection, unless being a Cantab is once again enough.
I donít think that Johnny Leoío has had a start yet; he certainly makes good use of his time when he is subbed on. I hope that he gets a chance for a full game this year Ė I think he could be bloody exciting. (Unfortunately not just yet as he is injuried.) Donít really know Matt Mustchin, and I donít expect to see much of him.
Scott Robertson needs to keep up the good work if he wants to keep his ABsí jersey. Donít think he will have any problem with that though. Ditto Richie McCaw!
Half-back - Ben Hurst, Justin Marshall Ė would anyone be surprised to see Marshall leave NZ after the Rugby World Cup. I have a feeling that he actually has a longer contract, but surely he hasnít got many more years in him. The cries are getting louder every year, but he is still capable of superb play. Will have to wait to see how much time Hurst gets on the field this year.
1st 5/8 - Daniel Carter, Andrew Mehrtens Ė Surely Aaron Mauger should be listed here, but Carter is certainly an exciting prospect. Mauger developed maturity during Mehrtís injury in 2001, but Carter seems to bring it with him.
For that matter I wonder what Mehrtís plans are for after the RWC. Until then I want to see superb passing, fantastic kicking, and more of the running that surprises the sh*t out of the opposition. Oh and his bone jarring tackling as well !-)
Midfield - Aaron Mauger (co-captain), Nathan Mauger, Mark Robertson Ė one of these people is not like the others! Think current ABsÖ What do you think Nathan Mauger gave his brother for Christmas? Iím guessing a one-way ticket to the Central African Republic! (Along with a dodgy compass and a map of Kazakhstan) It must seem the surest way to actually get a start this year. Robertson isnít going to be easy to supplant and surely Aaron as the incumbent ABs 2nd 5/8 isnít going anywhere soon (except maybe the CAR!-)
Wings - Joe Maddock, Caleb Ralph, Marika Vunibaka Ė speed fiends to burn! And one of them is even from Canterbury! Even on rotation they should all have a jolly time, as long as Marshall can stop the dodgy long passes to them!
Fullback - Leon MacDonald, Scott Hamilton (also covers wing) Ė One headshot and Leon could be out of action for life; itís a real worry actually. And if that happens we have newby Scott Hamilton to take his place. Great! (although I suspect Maddock or Aaron Mauger might get the job ahead of Hamilton)
So I read Scottís CRFU profile to try to learn something about him. He is 22, plays for Glenmark, his nickname is Bubbles, and he includes Basil Brush in his list of famous people he would invite over for dinner. Any the wiser?
Summary - And on that note we complete the Crusaders squad for the 2003 season. Still lots of experience, and a good number of new players - most with some real spark. But that is to be expected, they are playing with the big boys now!
Looks to me like a star team, rather than a team of stars. Just the way we Cantabs like it!
GO THE CRUSADERS !!!!!!!!!!