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'There is a void': Scott Barrett on how Crusaders will deal with personnel losses

By Ben Smith
Scott Barrett holds the Super Rugby Pacific trophy as the Crusaders celebrate after winning the Super Rugby Pacific Final match between Chiefs and Crusaders at FMG Stadium Waikato, on June 24, 2023, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett admits that the club has a “void” to fill ahead of their 2024 Super Rugby Pacific campaign after losing so many club legends.

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Instrumental first five-eighth Richie Mo’unga and All Black talisman Sam Whitelock headline the departures list, but the greatest loss is arguably inspirational coach Scott Robertson.

Under Robertson the Crusaders won a title every single year, capturing three Super Rugby crowns from 2017-19, two Super Rugby Aotearoa crowns from 2020-21, and two Super Rugby Pacific titles in 2022 and 2023.

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2024 is the start of a new chapter for the longest dynasty in Super Rugby as new head coach Rob Penney attempts to avoid a post-Robertson come down.

“Naturally when you lose guys who have played a lot in the jersey, in some respects legends of the club, there is a void there but the beauty of New Zealand rugby and the Crusaders is guys are quick to put their hand up, take those opportunities and fill those gaps,” Barrett told media at Wednesday’s Super Rugby Pacific launch.

“With two new coaches, players moving on off the back of the World Cup cycle, the ingredients are there for a new group to put their hand up in I guess, a new era.

“As someone who has been around a few seasons now, it’s exciting. You feed off the excitement of the new players.”

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Talk that the Crusaders can’t win without Razor or Richie was the “first time” Barrett had heard of such predictions, and highlighted that they had been written off plenty of times before under Robertson.

In 2022 the Blues went 15-1 before losing the home final to the underdog Crusaders at Eden Park. Again in 2023, they went on the road to face the Chiefs in Hamilton and came away with the silverware despite not being favoured.

In both seasons the Crusaders went through a mid-season trough which they dug themselves out of to topple fancied opponents when it mattered most.

“There is a natural expectation in the group, over the past wee while we’ve been faced with adversity and that sort of thing,” Barrett said.

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“We’ve got some young talent and there’s no shortage of excitement for the season ahead.”

The Crusaders captain was confident that a number of experienced players would step up this year having been grounded in the Crusaders’ way for a number of years.

The majority of the title-winning squad from 2023 remain at Rugby Park ready to embark on a potential three-peat of Super Rugby Pacific titles.

“There is a real middle tier of players that have been around the last four to five years, it’s their time to stand up and lead,” he said.

“Tom Christie, Dallas McLeod, names that like that, it’s not their first season and they’ve been a big part of our success the last couple of years.

“With Richie [Mo’unga], Jack Goodhue, Leicester [Fainga’anku], Sam Whitelock moving on, there is still a huge part of the group that remains.

“Systems, processes, expectations, they are still there.”

 

 

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