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Crusaders bolster injury-hit fullback stocks with return of Johnny McNicholl

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

The Crusaders have brought in another Welsh international fullback to help ease the burden of losing All Black Will Jordan as well as Leigh Halfpenny, bringing back former Crusader Johnny McNicholl.

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McNicholl was a member of the club from 2014-16, earning 39 caps before departing for Scarlets where he donned a different red on over 120 occasions.

The outside back’s form was recognised in 2020 when he was called into the Wales team and earned an international debut against France in the Six Nations.

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The 33-year-old returns to the club he began his professional career with to help cover for his former Scarlets teammate Halfpenny, who suffered a chest injury in his pre-season debut for the reigning Super Rugby Pacific champions.

“I’m really looking forward to running out in front of the home crowd again, I didn’t think I’d get that opportunity again so yeah, it’s pretty special,” McNicholl said.

“It’s also great for me and my family to be coming back home after a decent stint overseas.”

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Chay Fihaki has stepped into the 15 jersey with the injury crisis at the position and will be McNicholl’s direct competition for the role.

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Crusaders coach Rob Penney said he was “thrilled to welcome Johnny back.”

“Johnny’s a top-notch operator with proven experience and like any good fullback, he has the potential to produce magic from anywhere on the field,” Penney said.

“We’re looking forward to seeing him back in the colours in 2024.”

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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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