Rugby: Scott Robertson plotting NPC title defence

By Campbell Burnes

New Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson. Photo / File
New Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson. Photo / File

Canterbury will only get their full Mitre 10 Cup squad together for the first time on Monday as outgoing coach Scott Robertson plots the defence of their Premiership title and a possible eighth crown in nine seasons.

That short, five-day, lead-in to their home opener against 2015 finalists Auckland will be challenging enough, but Canterbury must also get up to speed with the new breakdown trial laws.

Robertson, who will swap his Canterbury clipboard for a Crusaders one after this campaign, his ninth with the province, and fourth as head coach, has named an extended squad, but this includes injured lock Mitch Dunshea, who is out for the season, and current All Blacks Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks, Ryan Crotty, Joe Moody, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Codie Taylor and Sam Whitelock.

"It's the mental side of it, more than the physical, for some of the Super Rugby guys coming back in," says Robertson. "We've got Crusaders, but also Chiefs and Highlanders boys like Dominic Bird, Tom Sanders, Siate Tokolahi, Rob Thompson and Luke Whitelock.

"It's a bit of excitement around having Auckland first up at home. We need to be sharp around our preparation because we basically start on Monday. You will see some new, young guys."

There will be no resting on laurels, even if the only significant losses from the 2015 group are outside back Nathaniel Apa, prop Nepo Laulala and goalkicking ace Tom Taylor.
"We've had a good run (since 2008) and it's off the back of breaking every year down, but this group have their own goals to achieve."

We should see the full flowering of talents such as Chiefs loose forward Tom Sanders, a fond farewell for wing Johnny McNicholl, often dazzling at this level, and a close look at the likes of five-eighths Jordie Barrett, fresh from a fine NZ Under 20s' campaign.

Interesting newcomers include Fijian-Crusader No 10 Ben Volavola, former Auckland hooker Nathan Vella, 2015 Wanganui midfielder Poasa Waqanibau, former Flying Fijians prop Lee Roy Atalifo, and former Saracens and England Under 20s flyer Nathan Earle, who has been on fire for Sumner in Canterbury club rugby and looked the goods at the 2014 Junior World Championship in New Zealand.

New Zealand Rugby do not promote the draw as a separate Premiership-Championship competition, as it is, but that does not change the approach of the coaches, not when a clutch of Championship sides upset their Premiership rivals in 2015. Robertson recalls, in particular, how North Harbour pushed them 17-10 last season and indeed shocked Canterbury in 2014 in one of the great upsets in NPC history.

"There are hard games every week. Every team wants to knock Canterbury off. We know that and prepare accordingly. We've also got a Shield challenge (September 28) if Waikato can truck through the first couple," he says.

Robertson will, of necessity be watching a stack of rugby over the next two months. The reasons are twofold: one, he will be seeking to fill the few remaining gaps in the Crusaders roster, and two, keeping a close eye on trends and how his opposition are coping with the new laws.

"You've got to be quite smart and tactical and look at where the trends are going and how guys are getting the ball back. The attacking team will have the clear advantage. I'm wondering if scores will blow out. How do you (legally) slow the ball down? Do you go through the middle or out wide?" he says.

Hopefully these questions will be clearly answered in the coming weeks.

Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup squad:
Lee Roy Atalifo, Jordie Barrett, Scott Barrett, Dominic Bird, George Bridge, Jed Brown, Wyatt Crockett, Ryan Crotty, Hamish Dalzell, Mitch Drummond, Nathan Earle, Ere Enari, Inga Finau, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Jack Goodhue, Billy Harmon, Alex Hodgman, Oli Jager, Milford Keresoma, Daniel Lienert-Brown, David McDuling, Johnny McNicholl, Richie Mo'unga, Joe Moody, Reed Prinsep, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Jack Stratton, Marshall Suckling, Codie Taylor, Rob Thompson, Matt Todd, Siate Tokolahi, Nathan Vella, Ben Volavola, Poasa Waqanibau, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 27 Sep 2016 01:49:21 Processing Time: 530ms