The BNZ Crusaders squad will feature seven new players for the 2018 Investec Super Rugby season.

Head Coach Scott Robertson announced his 38-man squad this morning and said there was plenty for Crusaders fans to look forward to with a mixture of experience and emerging talent among the ranks for the upcoming season: “We are fortunate to name a vastly experienced squad for 2018, including 12 All Blacks currently away on the end of year tour, along with Maori All Blacks (Tim Bateman) and Barbarians representatives (George Bridge, Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo’unga).

“Alongside that experience are some talented young players who have made a huge impact early on in their provincial careers and put their hand up to be selected in this squad for the first time”, Robertson said.

Of the 21 forwards named in the side, two are new to Super Rugby and one player, Tom Sanders, returns to Christchurch to join the squad. Sanders was a member of the Crusaders Wider Training Group in 2015 before moving to the Chiefs for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Robertson said it was fantastic to welcome a player of Tom’s ability back in to the Crusaders environment: “Tom has played some outstanding footy for Canterbury during the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup campaign. He’s a strong and uncompromising defender, who carries the ball well and never stops working. We’re confident he’ll complement our existing loose forwards well in 2018.”

The two new loose forwards joining the squad are Canterbury’s Billy Harmon and Tasman’s Ethan Blackadder.

“Billy was part of the Crusaders Academy and really made his mark during what was his second season in the Mitre 10 Cup this year. It’s been great to see a young player take his opportunities in the No. 7 jersey for Canterbury, and he certainly made it his own towards the end of the season. His performances tell us that he is ready to make the step up to Super Rugby and we’re excited to give him that opportunity", Robertson said. 

“Ethan has had a fantastic season for Tasman and really matured in to his role throughout the campaign. He’s a player who always gets through a power of work and carries the ball well, but what has really impressed the coaching group is Ethan’s character; he is team-focused and genuine which we believe will stand him in good stead for Super Rugby.”

In the backs, Canterbury halfback Jack Stratton joins the squad in 2018, after Ere Enari was ruled out for the season when he broke his leg in the last round-robin match of the Mitre 10 Cup.

“Jack is a great addition to our halfback stocks for 2018. He’s only 23, but already exhibits strong game management and decision-making abilities. Jack is another player who took his opportunities during the Mitre 10 Cup and made an impact each time he took the field, so he’ll learn a lot from our experienced halfbacks in Bryn Hall and Mitch Drummond”, Robertson said.

Braydon Ennor and Will Jordan both debuted in the Mitre 10 Cup this season, for Canterbury and Tasman respectively, and have been named as two new outside backs in the squad.

Robertson said the World Champion New Zealand Under 20 representatives have taken the step up to provincial rugby in their stride: “Braydon and Will have made the transition to Mitre 10 Cup look effortless in their debut seasons. Both were one and two on the competition stats for clean breaks and will add some real strike power to our back line options.

“Braydon is quick and powerful on attack but also a solid defender, with the ability to play in the midfield or out wide. He’s proved an exciting player to watch as he’s progressed through the Crusaders Academy, and provides us with plenty of versatility in the back line.

“Will has shown this season he is equally as dangerous on attack, strong with ball in hand and knows his way to the try line. He is another product of the Crusaders Academy and a former Canterbury Under 19 representative, who has potential in spades”, Robertson said.

Mike Delany, who played for the Highlanders and Chiefs between the 2007 and 2012 seasons and earned one test cap for the All Blacks in 2009, also joins the squad - as an option at either first five-eighth or fullback.

“Mike will be another key player in our 2018 squad, as someone who brings fantastic knowledge and experience to our back line. He’s a great leader, controls the game well, and has played in Japan, France and England - so he will be an important voice for us this season”, Robertson said. 

“I’m really proud of the squad we have announced today and, as a coaching group, we’re looking forward to seeing what we can achieve with this team in the new season.  Each of the players we have named brings something different to the mix but I believe the combination of skills we have here is strong and the character of each of these men will add value to the BNZ Crusaders in 2018.”

2018 BNZ Crusaders squad:

FORWARDS                                                              BACKS
Michael Alaalatoa                                                     Tim Bateman
Scott Barrett                                                             George Bridge
Ethan Blackadder                                                     Ryan Crotty
Wyatt Crockett                                                          Israel Dagg
Mitchell Dunshea                                                      Mike Delany
Owen Franks                                                             Mitchell Drummond
Ben Funnell                                                               Braydon Ennor
Billy Harmon                                                             Jack Goodhue
Oliver Jager                                                               Bryn Hall
Andrew Makalio                                                        David Havili
Joe Moody                                                                 Mitchell Hunt
Tim Perry                                                                   Will Jordan
Kieran Read                                                              Jone Macilai
Luke Romano                                                           Manasa Mataele
Pete Samu                                                                Richie Mo’unga  
Tom Sanders                                                            Jack Stratton
Quinten Strange                                                       Seta Tamanivalu
Jordan Taufua
Codie Taylor
Matt Todd
Sam Whitelock

For further information on the BNZ Crusaders squad, including player statistics and coach's comments, click here