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All Blacks great tips more history-making pain for winless Crusaders

By Finn Morton
A general view is seen as the Crusaders stop for a drink during the round one Super Rugby Pacific match between Chiefs and Crusaders at FMG Stadium Waikato, on February 23, 2024, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Rugby World Cup-winning All Black Mils Muliaina has tipped the Crusaders to create unwanted team history this week ahead of their Round Four clash with the ladder-leading Hurricanes in Christchurch.

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For the first time since 1996, which was the inaugural season of the then-called Super 12, the Crusaders have begun their quest for Super Rugby glory with three losses from as many starts.

The Crusaders, who are searching for their eighth Super Rugby title in as many years, started their title defence with a loss on the road against the Chiefs and a Super Round upset defeat to the NSW Waratahs in Melbourne.

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But after being beaten by the Fijian Drua in Lautoka on Saturday afternoon, the Crusaders are now just one loss away from what would be their worst start to a season in history.

In 1996 they lost their first three games but managed to draw their Round Four clash 16-all with Western Province.

All Blacks great Mils Muliaina believes the Crusaders’ winless start to Super Rugby Pacific will go from bad to worse on Friday evening when they take on the undefeated Hurricanes at Apollo Projects Stadium.

“I honestly think the Hurricanes are going to come away with this,” Muliaina said on Stan Sports’ The Call Up.

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“They know how to go down there and be competitive.

“There’s a lot going on in the Crusaders camp but I think the Hurricanes are going to be too strong.”

After starting three different halfbacks across the opening few rounds, coach Rob Penney has stuck with the same No. 9 for the second week in a row after selecting England international Willi Heinz.

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Heinz will partner playmaker Riley Hohepa in the halves. Hohepa only made his Super Rugby Pacific last weekend in the loss to the Drua in Fiji.

But the big team news for the Crusaders is the absence of their skipper. All Blacks and Crusaders lock Scott Barrett is expected to miss up to six weeks with a broken finger.

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“Not the start they would’ve thought they would’ve had,” Muliaina said.

“Interesting to see how close these games have been. Last week, the biggest winning margin was 10 and that was against the Drua and (the Crusaders) lost.

“Certainly not good news, the fact that they’re 0-3. And their captain, he’s been really good, inspirational.

“They’ve still got some good cattle there. It’ll be interesting to see, Quentin Strange comes back into the fold of things.

“The big one at the moment is the fact that (Riley) Hohepa will now start for them… they need to bounce back against the number one team at the moment and that’s the Hurricanes.”

It’s a very different story for the Hurricanes, though, who are the only undefeated side in Super Rugby Pacific after the opening three rounds.

The Hurricanes kicked off their season with a clinical win over the Western Force in Perth and backed that up with a golden point thriller against the Reds in Melbourne.

But last weekend’s 29-21 win over the Blues in the capital was a statement win from a side that will be full of confidence and belief ahead of their trip down south.

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“The thing is with them you still haven’t got (Jodie) Barrett back,” Muliaina explained

“Great game against the Blues, although the Blues will probably feel they didn’t get the balance right in terms of the bench and what unfolded, but they look settled, they look confident.

“The first three rounds were huge for them. To go over to Perth and then to Melbourne for the Super Round, and then to have this big game to follow up against the Blues, they’ve got some big confidence behind their team at the moment.

“They look really settled, really hardened up front,” he added. “Ruben Love, he’s in some sensational form but that’s on the back of that contact they’re winning up front.

“Really nice balance in terms of their loosies. Peter (Lakai) and Brandon Iose, they’re providing that balance and how good is it to see guys like Cam Roigard really stepping up? Gee, he’s got some power, he’s got some pace.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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