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'Real cauldron': What makes the Crusaders' European tour so 'invaluable'

By Ned Lester
The Crusaders celebrate their 2023 Super Rugby Pacific final win. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

Super Rugby Pacific’s preseason is bridging the gap between rival leagues in 2024, with fixtures in Japan and Europe taking centre stage in early February.

While the Reds have already played a preseason fixture against Japan Rugby League One’s Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights last November, it will soon be the New Zealand teams’ turn to venture north.


The Blues and Chiefs are each playing two matches against the top four finishers from League One’s 2023 season; Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, Kubota Spears Funabashi-Tokyo Bay and Yokohama Canon Eagles.

Those games kick off on Saturday, February 3rd – the same weekend as the Crusaders’ opening preseason fixture against Munster. That Sunday morning match (NZT) will be followed by a contest against Bristol the following weekend.

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Both the European and Japan tours will see Super Rugby sides still weeks out from the competition’s start date face teams in midseason form.

“It will be invaluable,” Crusaders halfback Willi Heinz, 37, said of the experience. “Going up there at this time of year playing against teams halfway through their season in what will invariably be tricky conditions I imagine is such a unique opportunity.

“Often what you don’t get when you prepare for Super Rugby is preparing for big occasions. You might be playing down in Ashburton or Oamaru or some random town in the North Island and while that’s awesome, to have the opportunity to go into a big stadium and play in front of 35,000 or 40,000 people, that’s something you don’t often get.

“We’ve got the Chiefs in round one on a Friday night at what will be a cauldron [in Hamilton] so to be able to go to Munster and Bristol and play in front of those big crowds will be a great opportunity for us.


“I’ve been over to Thomond Park before with Gloucester [to play Munster] and their fans are incredibly special — singing and chanting and creating that real cauldron sort of atmosphere so it will be awesome to experience that.”


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Andrew 170 days ago

These games may be a sobering wakeup call for SR. I fear some hidings for the Saders.

Graham 171 days ago

I agree 100% with Willi Heinz this 2 week sojourn for the Crusaders will be invaluable. Playing great teams like Munster and Bristol, ( especially the former), in the middle of winter is going to be amazing. In front of big crowds too. Guys like Rivez Reihana and Taha Kemara , ( competing for the 10 position ), will learn so much. Great to see Quinten Strange chosen as tour captain. The right man for the job. Good luck boys.

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