Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: What now for the Crusaders?

Getting Nadolo’s name on the dotted line should be a priority for Crusaders coach.

Kieran Read leaves the field after the Super Rugby final. Photo / Getty Images
Kieran Read leaves the field after the Super Rugby final. Photo / Getty Images

One of Todd Blackadder's first acts on his return to Christchurch after the heartbreak of the final defeat will be to ensure his side have the best players possible for next year, a potentially difficult one which features the All Blacks' defence of the World Cup.

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With one exception, all of his top men are locked in. The exception is a notable one - Nemani Nadolo, the giant Fijian test wing whose try in the 33-32 defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney dragged his side level. Few others in the Crusaders could have scored it - a run to the line from about 35 metres in which he had to stay clear of the closing Kurtley Beale and Alofa Alofa, who tried desperately but failed to drag him into touch in the corner.

Nadolo, 26, spent two years with the Waratahs but couldn't get a Super Rugby game because of an apparent lack of pace. He showed plenty on Saturday night in helping to level the scores, just as he has done all season - although his ability to break tackles and ball handling are also big parts of an impressive skillset.

Signed from Japanese team Panasonic Green Rockets, coached by former All Black Greg Cooper, Nadolo scored 13 tries in 14 matches this season. He will return to Panasonic this week, and has indicated a willingness to return to the Crusaders, but has yet to sign a contract extension. Getting his name on the dotted line must be a priority for Blackadder because Nadolo added a new dimension to a Crusaders attack which was feeble at the start of the season.

Nadolo drew level with Israel Folau as the top try scorers in the competition this year, but he also got the best out of Israel Dagg. His ability to link with loosies Kieran Read and Jordan Taufua was also notable.

Next year will be the last for Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, and the mindset of the Crusaders' All Blacks ahead of the World Cup in England and Wales in September and October will once again be the cause of much speculation. Will they have their sights on a bigger prize?

One of the bonuses for Blackadder is that no one is taking a sabbatical. Another reason for optimism is how the Crusaders played in 2011, the most difficult of seasons because of the earthquakes in Christchurch and with the clock ticking on the World Cup on home soil.

Instead of going into their shells, however, the Crusaders, with Sonny Bill Williams on board, excelled, running out of steam only in the final against the Reds in Brisbane.

Another year to wait then for Blackadder, who has yet to win a title since taking over from Robbie Deans at the end of 2008, the year of the franchise's last success. It is six years without a title now and the fact that Blackadder, who is contracted until the end of 2016, has taken his team to the play-offs in every one will be no consolation.

As he said on Saturday night, though, it's not the end of the world, and a new Nadolo contract will surely help with his optimism.

- APNZ

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