South Island second-rower Mitch Dunshea has a massive challenge on his hands if he’s going to clock up many minutes with the Crusaders next year.

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Dunshea was one of the most consistent performers for the Crusaders this season, ably stepping into Scott Barrett’s shoes while the captain was sidelined with injury during Super Rugby Aotearoa.

With Barrett hopefully fit again next season and new All Blacks lock Quenten Strange also on the books, Dunshea will face incredibly tough competition for a spot in the Crusaders’ match-day 23.

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In Barrett, Strange, Dunshea and South Island captain Sam Whitelock, the Crusaders indisputably have the best second row depth of any club team across the globe. There’s also former All Black Luke Romano to consider.

While Dunshea’s selection in the South team for the interisland clash indicated that the Cantabrian wasn’t too far down the national pecking order, the selection of his Crusaders teammate Strange in the national side may have come as a bit of a blow. Strange, after all, was consigned to just a solitary start in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Nevertheless, Dunshea has re-signed with the Crusaders for one more season, despite there likely being plenty of interest across the country for the tall timber.

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The Chiefs, in particular, will still be devoid of experienced options in next year’s competition, even after factoring in 20-year-old Tupou Vaa’i’s elevation to the national set-up.

The ability for the Crusaders’ environment to bring out the best in its players is no secret with the likes of Braydon Ennor, Will Jordan and now Strange earning higher honours despite sometimes being forced to play off the bench – and sometimes not making the matchday team at all.

24-year-old Dunshea, who was born in Hamilton, may fancy spending another year under the tutelage of experienced operators Whitelock, Barrett and Romano with the hopes of further strengthening his core skills before considering taking his services elsewhere.

While few players leave the Crusaders unless they absolutely have to, Dunshea’s should still be considered an excellent grab for the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions and Scott Robertson is understandably pleased with the retention.

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“Mitch is a tireless worker who has grown immensely in his role and is making a case for higher honours,” Robertson said. “A quiet achiever, he’s been a big part of our success, so he’s a key signing.”

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