While the Blues, Chiefs and Hurricanes have impressed with the depth of quality throughout their respective teams of the decade, the Crusaders undoubtedly possess the strongest XV of all the Kiwi franchises.
That should come as no surprise to anyone, given the Christchurch-based side have claimed the last three Super Rugby titles, made a further two finals and missed the play-offs just once since 2010.
Whether it was under the stewardship of Todd Blackadder or Scott Robertson, the Crusaders have been blessed with a vast number of world-class players over the past decade, which has certainly aided their cause to becoming Super Rugby’s most successful team of all-time.
Such an accolade means that the nine-time champions have produced an exceptional all-star team from that timeframe, featuring not only some of the best talent in the world, but also some of the greatest players to have ever graced the sport of rugby.
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Crusaders Team of the Decade
1 – Wyatt Crockett
As the only player to have accumulated over 200 Super Rugby appearances, it’s difficult to ignore the incredible longevity of Crusaders legend Wyatt Crockett.
After launching his Super Rugby career in 2006, the 36-year-old stayed on board with the Crusaders for 13 trophy-laden seasons, bowing out of the professional game last year with three Super Rugby titles, a World Cup crown, 71 All Blacks tests and 202 Crusaders outings to his name.
Still plying his trade for the reigning Mitre 10 Cup champions Tasman, Crockett usurps his former teammate Joe Moody for the loosehead prop role, despite the latter perhaps wielding more dynamism in his all-round game than the semi-retired veteran.
2 – Codie Taylor
After two years of playing second-fiddle to ex-All Black Corey Flynn, Codie Taylor’s breakthrough year came in 2015, where his form in a disappointing Crusaders season warranted a maiden international call-up, and a World Cup winners’ medal soon followed suit.
Since then, his development has escalated significantly, as the 28-year-old’s extensive skill set in general play has complemented his core roles as a hooker so nicely that he’s overtaken Dane Coles as New Zealand’s premier No. 2.
That was reflected by his selection as the All Blacks’ starting hooker in their ultimately unsuccessful World Cup campaign, but with 50 test matches to his name, Taylor looms as a vital figure for both Ian Foster and Scott Robertson’s sides both internationally and in Super Rugby over the coming years.
3 – Owen Franks
He may have been the unluckiest All Black to have missed out on World Cup selection this year, but that shouldn’t diminish Owen Franks’ standing as one of New Zealand’s modern-day greats.
Renowned for his extraordinary strength, firm defensive solidity and love for scrummaging, it were those attributes which helped guide the 31-year-old to two World Cup crowns, three Super Rugby championships, 108 test matches and 150 Crusaders appearances between 2009 and 2019.
Now residing in England after accepting a deal to play alongside his brother Ben at Premiership club Northampton, Franks beats out the challenge of Michael Alaalatoa for the tighthead spot in this side.
4 – Scott Barrett
The Taranaki native deviated away from the Hurricanes region – unlike his brothers and All Blacks teammates Beauden and Jordie – to cut his teeth in the Canterbury and Crusaders systems, and it’s a move that has proven to pay dividends.
After gaining his first cap for the Crusaders in a mid-year friendly against England in 2014, Barrett has gone on to accrue 69 appearances for the franchise en route to claiming three Super Rugby championships and overtaking Romano in the starting side.
His rugged style of play has also been well-utilised by the All Blacks in the test arena, as he now has 36 caps to his name since 2016, and after being handed the captaincy duties for next season, the 26-year-old doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon.
5 – Sam Whitelock
An absolute workhorse for both the All Blacks and Crusaders since his debut for both sides in 2010, the presence of Sam Whitelock in this side is unarguable.
The 31-year-old captained the franchise to their three successive Super Rugby titles between 2017 and 2019, which has undoubtedly been the highlight of 143-match career at the club.
Furthermore, his strong leadership, high work rate and reliability at the set piece has made him a staple of the All Blacks, who he has played 117 times for and won two World Cups with.
Set to jet off to Japan soon to begin his short-term deal with the Panasonic Wild Knights in the Top League, but will return to New Zealand as one of the country’s most prominent figures leading into the 2023 World Cup.
6 – Jordan Taufua
The energy and enthusiasm provided by Jordan Taufua during his seven-year stay in Christchurch was infectious at the Crusaders, and for that reason, he wins the blindside flanker role in this squad.
The rampant 1.85m, 105kg loose forward was a sight to behold on either side of the ball, such was his explosiveness and physicality of his game play.
Now with the Leicester Tigers in England, Taufua can mount a strong case to being the unluckiest player in the modern era to have never played for the All Blacks after injury robbed him of a test debut against France last year.
Nevertheless, it will take something special to emulate the legacy he left behind in the Garden City, something of which that has earned him the No. 6 jersey ahead of one-test All Blacks flanker George Whitelock.
7 – Richie McCaw
As has been the case throughout his entire career, the industrious Matt Todd will miss out on higher honours despite his obvious talent and overwhelming commitment to the Crusaders due to the presence of another star player.
However, when that star player is none other than Richie McCaw, it’s understandable as to why Todd has taken the back seat this time round.
McCaw really needs no introduction, but as the most-capped test player of all-time, the only player to have captained a country to two World Cup crowns, the winner of four Super Rugby championships and a World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, there should be no debating the 38-year-old’s inclusion.
8 – Kieran Read
Another club legend to have featured regularly throughout and even before the dawn of the decade, Kieran Read’s selection in this team is non-negotiable.
Like McCaw, the ex-All Blacks skipper won was part of four title-winning Crusaders sides between 2007 and 2019, attaining 156 Super Rugby appearances in the process to add to his 128 test caps and two World Cup gold medals.
Read will now head to the Top League in Japan to join forces with former All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen at Toyota Verblitz, and the Crusaders will certainly be worse off without the 34-year-old’s steely defence and sublime handling skills.
9 – Bryn Hall
Some may consider it to be a controversial decision, but three-time Super Rugby champion Bryn Hall wins selection ahead of the long-serving Andy Ellis and two-time All Black Mitchell Drummond.
Ellis could have been regarded as the favourite to claim the halfback spot in this team of the decade after racking up 154 appearances and a Super Rugby title for the Crusaders between 2006 and 2016, but the 28-test 2011 World Cup-winner misses out to Hall, whose development as a rugby player has skyrocketed since moving south from the Blues three years ago.
The 27-year-old has been at the centre of the Christchurch club’s three-peat since 2017, and notched half a century of appearances under the tutelage of Robertson to establish himself as a mainstay at Orangetheory Stadium.
10 – Dan Carter
Richie Mo’unga may have steered the Crusaders to a hat-trick of titles to establish himself as New Zealand’s best first-five at present, but there can be no denying the great Dan Carter of a spot in the No. 10 jersey.
Supremely skilled in all facets of the game that a playmaker should thrive in, Carter’s exploits during his time at the Crusaders saw him win three Super Rugby crowns from 141 outings, which laid the foundations for one of the all-time great test careers with the All Blacks.
Others, such as Colin Slade and Tom Taylor could have come into consideration for the first-five position, but Carter remains not only the best Crusaders first-five of this decade, but also the franchise’s best pivot of all-time.
11 – Nemani Nadolo
Standing at 1.95m and 125kg, believed to be able to run 100m in 10.8 seconds and an international quality goal-kicker, there is almost nothing Nemani Nadolo can’t do on a rugby field.
Consequently, that made him one of the most frightening prospects to mark for any opposition player during his three-season spell in Super Rugby with the Crusaders between 2014 and 2016.
The 30-test Fiji wing, who can also play in the midfield, was a bulldozer in the No. 11 jersey for the Crusaders, for whom he nabbed 27 tries from 40 outings to form an impressive strike rate in the southern hemisphere’s premier club competition.
Now in France with Top 14 side Montpellier, Nadolo’s efforts in the Crusaders jersey places him ahead of George Bridge and Zac Guildford for a place in the team of the decade.
12 – Ryan Crotty
Was forced to bide his time before becoming a regular member of the Crusaders’ starting XV when he first came on board in 2008, but Ryan Crotty leaves the franchise this year as one of the club’s most valued players from over the years.
A four-time title-winner at Super Rugby level, the defensive security and reliability he offered in attack made him a safe midfield option in all of the 152 matches he played in for the Crusaders.
A debut for the All Blacks eventually came in 2013, and with 48 test appearances at international level under his belt, Crotty’s departure to Japan to link up with the Kubota Spears will be sorely felt in Christchurch.
13 – Jack Goodhue
Jack Goodhue’s decision to move from Auckland to Christchurch after finishing high school in 2013 has proven to be a masterstroke move by the 24-year-old centre.
His development under the watch of Canterbury and Crusaders officials has made him one of New Zealand’s most indispensable midfielders since his first outing as an All Black in 2017 – the same year he starred in his championship debut Crusaders campaign.
Goodhue’s value within the national set-up stems from his sublime distribution ability, key decision-making and impressive defence, all of which have been reflected during his time with the Crusaders.
As such, the 13-test All Black wins selection ahead of former Crusaders star Robbie Fruean, who must have gone close to national selection following some outrageous showings for the club between 2010 and 2015.
14 – Sean Maitland
Although Johnny McNicholl, Seta Tamanivalu and Sevu Reece all stole the limelight after succeeding one another in the Crusaders’ No. 14 jersey between 2013 and 2019, the right wing spot for this side belongs to the man who originally dominated the right wing slot at the beginning of the decade: Sean Maitland.
The Tokoroa-born speedster began his Super Rugby career in 2008 after two seasons with Canterbury at provincial level, and he went on to impress under both Robbie Deans and Todd Blackadder, ending his spell with 23 tries from 54 matches.
Maitland’s nose for the tryline has since made him an integral member of the Scottish national side, of whom he debuted for in 2013 after moving to join the Glasgow Warriors the year beforehand.
The 31-year-old, who played three times for the Maori All Blacks and was a British and Irish Lions tourist six years ago, is now in England with Premiership and European champions Saracens, and has played 44 tests for Scotland.
15 – Israel Dagg
A phenomenal athlete when at his peak, Israel Dagg wowed crowds across the southern hemisphere with his sparkling runs, dazzling footwork and aerial safety during his time with the Crusaders after moving north from the Highlanders in 2011.
Dagg won 89 of his 114 Super Rugby caps with the Christchurch side, which was more than enough time to ensure that when he was forced into retirement through injury earlier this year, he was solidified as one of the franchise’s all-time greats.
The 31-year-old was duly rewarded with two Super Rugby titles in 2017 and 2018, while he was a key cog in the All Blacks’ 2011 World Cup success as part of his 66-test international career.
That made it tough for incumbent fullback David Havili to break into this side, despite his thorough involvement in the Crusaders’ success since his Super Rugby debut in 2015.
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