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Three Crusaders stars have played their final match for the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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The Crusaders will need to do some further recruitment ahead of next season with three of their players set to depart the franchise.


Loose forwards Whetukamokamo Douglas, Tom Sanders and wing Manasa Mataele have all played their final games for the team, with the trio heading offshore for 2022.

Mataele – who earlier this week was named in the Fiji squad for their upcoming two-match series with the All Blacks – is rumoured to be heading to the Western Force in Australia.

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The Force have already announced that four up-and-coming Brumbies players will head west for next season with Reesjan Pasitoa, Bayley Kuenzle, Reece Tapine and Issak Fines-Leleiwasa all committing to the Australian team on two-year deals. They are, however, losing three Argentinian stars with Tomas Lezana, Tomas Cubelli and Domingo Miotti all heading to Europe.

Mataele burst onto the scene for the Crusaders in 2017 and was in the process of establishing himself as a starter for the team in 2019 when a ruptured ACL opened the door for Sevu Reece. Mataele has struggled for minutes since, mainly having to accept smaller roles off the bench.

27-year-old Sanders, meanwhile, is heading to Japan where he will become the latest New Zealand loose forward to feature in the Top League.

Sanders started his Super Rugby career with the Chiefs back in 2016 before shifting south to the Crusaders two years later. A barnstorming performance for the South Island in last year’s North v South exhibition match had some speculating that the Cantabrian could be due for an All Blacks call-up but nothing eventuated last year.


With the likes of Cullen Grace and Ethan Blackadder typically being preferred to him at the Crusaders throughout 2021, now is a sensible time for Sanders to head offshore.

Maori All Blacks No 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas is the longest-serving of the trio, having first linked up with the Crusaders in 2017. Douglas’ destination is yet to be confirmed but the powerful loose forward spent a season with Rainbow Cup finalists Benetton in recent years and could be looking to make a return to Europe.

The Crusaders have already announced one big-name signing for 2021, bringing Argentina captain Pablo Matera into the mix.

Scott Robertson and his fellow coaches brought just four new players into the squad at the start of the season but already it looks like recruitment will need to be upped for the campaign ahead.


Crusaders Under 20s loose forward and captain Anton Segner will be odds-on to make his Super Rugby debut next year while there are always plenty of talented outside backs floating around the country.

The Crusaders finished third in this year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition due to their inferior points differential relative to the Blues and Highlanders but were crowned Aotearoa champions for the second year running.


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