Former Crusaders star Israel Dagg has revealed how New Zealand players throughout Super Rugby have a particular dislike for the most successful franchise in the competition's history.
Speaking on Sky Sports UK's Will Greenwood Podcast, the 66-test All Black turned television pundit claimed "people have something against" the Christchurch club, who have won 10 titles in Super Rugby's 25-year history.
"I know playing other teams and talking to players from other teams – I'd have a lot of friends in other teams – they absolutely hate the Crusaders," Dagg said when discussing the revamped Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.
"They never say why, but they just hate them with a passion. People have something against them, so they will come out full guns blazing.
"But the Crusaders are the side to beat."
The Crusaders enjoyed a bye week in the opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa last weekend, and used their off-week to host an internal squad match at Orangetheory Stadium to get their players up to speed physically and tactically.
Despite victories to the Highlanders and Blues in the competition's opening weekend, Dagg had no reservations about labelling the Crusaders as favourites to win a fourth consecutive title under head coach Scott Robertson.
"They have to be favourites and the team to beat, and not just because I played for them and my heart lies with them," Dagg, who originally turned out for the Highlanders for two seasons before switching to the Crusaders in 2011, said.
"I think before the lockdown, they know what it takes to win and how to win championship matches – that's what these games are going to be like.
"They've got the squad to do the deeds. They've got a back-line which is a Ferrari and a forward pack which is a Rolls Royce – they've got it all."
The Crusaders will face the Hurricanes at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Sunday in their first match of the competition, as both teams eye up their first win of the new season.
In the week's other fixture, the Blues will look to build on their 30-20 victory over the Hurricanes toe days ago when they travel to Hamilton to take on the Chiefs, who lost to the Highlanders by one point at the death on Saturday, at FMG Stadium Waikato.