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'Don't blink': Crusaders enlist UFC star for preseason training

By Ned Lester
Kai Kara-France flexes at the weigh-in. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Super Rugby Pacific preseason is in full swing and the Crusaders have true fighting spirit in their corner.

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New Zealand MMA fighter Kai “Don’t Blink” Kara-France is the fourth-ranked Flywieght in the UFC, and has been imparting some knowledge on the reigning champions in Christchurch.

Rugby players taking inspiration from wrestling is nothing new, particularly for front rowers, with Crusaders and All Blacks veteran Joe Moody a former New Zealand representative and junior Commonwealth Games bronze medalist.

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Moody can be seen locking horns with new Crusaders midfielder Levi Aumua in a clip posted to the team’s social media.

Kara-France outlined the goal of the session, discussing both the physical and mental skills.

“Awesome seeing the boys on the mats, buying into wrestling and grappling. We’re just going to be adding little gems here and there and if they can take it on board and help them on their journey then it’s a win for us.

“What we’re doing here today is just building good habits, a good foundation. A lot of that is just body awareness, and direction on what they’re trying to do, especially in the tackle, in the contact and on the mat.

“Just being good with their weight distribution, making sure they’re heavy, so a lot of gems they can take on into their system. And, just building that resilience, building that fight in them, if they’re down in the first half, not carrying it into the second.

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“These small wins on the mat, they help the bigger wins on the field.

“It’s going to be a great year for the team, you can see they’re already fit and ready to go so I can’t wait to see them go out and smash it.”

Elsewhere in preseason training action, the Blues and Highlanders have also been put through their paces on the mats with grappling sessions while all teams have been powering through everyone’s favourite fitness tests like the infamous Bronco.

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The Blues and Chiefs will head to Japan in February for two preseason hitouts with Japan’s best League One teams; Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, Kubota Spears Funabashi-Tokyo Bay and Yokohama Canon Eagles.

Meanwhile, the Crusaders will venture further abroad to Europe to face the Bristol Bears and Munster at the same time. The team will face a familiar face in Oli Jager, who recently returned to Ireland after eight successful years in red and black, and also a familiar foe in Alex Nankivell, who departed the Chiefs following the 2023 season.

The Hurricanes and Highlanders will have standard preseason fixtures along with Moana Pasifika.

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