Crusaders ready for title defence

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Now in his third season of involvement with the side Ryan felt the competition for places in the Crusaders side was a strong as it had ever been.

"And that's great because that's when players play their best rugby. How we manage that and how we keep everyone in that competitive environment is crucial and I think, especially in the forward pack, that competition is red hot," he said.

The locking area was typical of that and they had a good supply of players who could start games and those who could finish.

In All Blacks Sam Whitelock's absence during the first four weeks of the campaign, it was a good chance for Quinten Strange and Mitch Dunshea to get some game time while it would also provide flanker Matt Todd with the chance to stamp his mark on the team as captain.

Ryan said the Crusaders got everything they wanted out of the pre-season and had come through without any injuries.

That was a credit to the way the players had come back in after the extended break and for those who had trained right through since December they had looked at how they could make their pre-season a little better and look after their bodies.

"It's not so much about flogging them, it's about getting their minds right and also their bodies, so we feel like we're in a good space," he said.

The main aim in their two pre-season games was making sure they got their fundamentals right and they were relatively happy with the outcome, he said.

Getting back into competition play meant there was a different edge around the team ahead of the Blues game and it wasn't something that only affected the players, the coaches had selection matters to deal with also.

The Blues were looking good, they had good variation in their attack and they had some good detail in their set-piece this year.

"I've only seen a couple of games but I'm sure Leon will want to stamp his mark on the team.

"I think he'll definitely make a difference and I think he will want to get the boys to express themselves, trust their skill set and be willing to try a few different things and whatever that looks like on attack I would say he would bring a good mix and a good variation to that," Ryan said.

Ryan said time had been spent dealing with the tackle area, and getting the arm under the ball and not above it because that could cause problems for players.

Given the arm injuries loose forward Jordan Taufua suffered last year in tackle situations they had also been working with him on getting more shoulder into his tackles and if he was able to achieve that he would be able to look forward to a good farewell season, without injury, for the side, he said.