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Emirates Lions(Updated with BNZ Crusaders playing squad)

The Emirates Lions head coach Johan Ackermann has named an extended squad of 25 players for the quarterfinal clash against the Crusaders, with the big surprise being the possible return to action of inspirational captain Warren Whiteley.

Whiteley, who was originally diagnosed with an injury which would keep him out of Rugby for 6 weeks, and hence miss the entire Super Rugby play-offs, is to undergo a fitness test on Thursday.

Undoubtedly the Lions management, players and all of their supporters will be hoping that he is declared fit to play.

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Todd Blackadder

Todd Blackadder

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has taken a swipe at the SANZAR brains trust over their proposed Super Rugby innovations.

He called the proposed changes to the Super Rugby bonus point system “bizarre” and suggested there was a lack of consultation with franchises on the matter.

The SANZAR initiative, that is expected to formally unveiled early next week, also include a number of minor law variations for the 2016 Super Rugby season.

While some of the expected law innovations still require World Rugby approval, the biggest innovation – a change to the try-scoring bonus points – is what has caused the biggest stir.

The SANZAR change will see the bonus point awarded to teams who score 4 tries or more in a game scrapped and replaced by 1 for teams that score 3 tries more than their opponents.

Blackadder called the proposed change “bizarre” and queried the lack of consultation with franchises on the matter.

The mooted change, widely reported by media in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand on Thursday, is a copy of the system used in the French Top 14 league and aimed at keeping lopsided games alive for longer periods.

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Nemani Nadolo

Nemani Nadolo

New Zealand’s Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders have confirmed that Fijian Rugby World Cup winger Nemani Nadolo will not be extending his contract with the Christchurch team next season.

Nadolo has agreed to play his rugby in France for French club Montpellier after the 2016 Super Rugby season.

Fijian winger Nadolo was raised in Brisbane Australia and has had playing stints in the UK, France, Australia and Japan but his career only really took off when he joined the Crusaders.

Nadolo is now 1 of the hottest wingers in World Rugby but it was not long ago that he was with the Waratahs and was unable to make the match day team.

The winger left Sydney and played for Bourgoin between 2010 and 2011 before joining Japan’s NEC Green Rocket where he was brought to the attention of Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.

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Todd Blackadder

Todd Blackadder

The Crusaders have announced that Todd Blackadder will step aside as head coach at the conclusion of the 2016 Super Rugby season.

“This will be my 8th season coaching the Crusaders, and every minute in the role has been a privilege, but moving on at the end of the 2016 season is the right thing for me and the right thing for the team,” Blackadder said.

“I have been so fortunate to be able to do my dream job for all of these years, but 8 years is a relatively long time in coaching and I feel that the time is right for someone else to take the reins and lead the team in their own direction in the future.

“One of the important things to come out of our 2015 season review is that distractions were a problem for us last season, so that is why I was keen to make my intentions clear before the season begins to avoid my future becoming a distraction for the team during the 2016 season,” Blackadder said.

Blackadder took over from Robbie Deans as head coach of the Crusaders in 2009. He has coached the team to 4 Super Rugby Semifinals and 2 Finals so far, and the final against the Waratahs in 2014 marked his 100th game in the Crusaders’ top job.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw

Double Rugby World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw is expected to confirm his decision to retire from rugby this week, New Zealand media reported on Sunday.

McCaw, who turns 35 on 31 December, led the All Blacks to their 3rd Rugby World Cup triumph 2 weeks ago when his side beat trans-Tasman rivals Australia 34 / 17 in the final at a packed Twickenham stadium in London.

The All Blacks were the 1st team to retain the trophy, after the openside flanker led the team to victory in 2011 while playing with a broken foot.

McCaw had done little to dampen expectations that he would retire after this year’s Rugby World Cup, though never explicitly said he would, preferring to state he would not make up his mind until the global showpiece ended.

He was not named last month in the Canterbury Super Rugby squad for 2016 though New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Crusaders said there was space for him if he chose to play on.

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CrusadersChiefsSANZAR is delighted to reveal that Super Rugby is coming to the Pacific Islands for the 1st time as Fiji is announced to host the Round 15 clash between the Chiefs and the Crusaders.

The match, to be played at Suva’s ANZ Stadium, will see Fiji become the 8th nation to host a Super Rugby fixture, joining Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

SANZAR Interim CEO, Brendan Morris, welcomed the exciting news.

“In 2016, Super Rugby is being delivered to more countries and more fans than ever before. Not only will we see games played in Argentina, Japan and Singapore for the 1st time in history, but we are delighted to partner with the Fijian Government, the Chiefs and event promoter Fortress to deliver the 1st ever match to the Pacific Islands.

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Super RugbyMassive experience and exciting new talents are the order of the day for all New Zealand’s Super Rugby franchises as they reveal their 2016 squads.

The Highlanders have made minimal changes to their 2015 championship winning squad, with just 9 new additions to their 38-man squad. The side they beat in the 2015 final, the Hurricanes, have taken a similar approach, opting for continuity in retaining 30 players of the greater 39-man squad.

The Chiefs will boast 12 former and current All Blacks in their squad and a further 14 fresh faces. 4 Players have been promoted from the Crusaders’ wider training group with a further 11 players joining the franchise for the 1st time.

The Blues are the only side who have gone against the grain as head coach Tana Umaga has built his 2016 squad around 6 core players, as he looks to resurrect the franchise to his former glory.

We look at all New Zealand’s Super Rugby squads:

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Marty McKenzie

Marty McKenzie

The Crusaders have signed Chiefs flyhalf Marty McKenzie to fill the gap left by the departing Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor.

McKenzie will compete with Ben Volavola and Richie Mo’unga, who have also signed with the franchise ahead of the 2016 season.

Maori All Black McKenzie will move south from the Chiefs, returning to the city where he spent the final 2 years of secondary school. Born and raised in Southland, McKenzie moved from Gore High School to Christchurch’s Christ’s College for his final school years playing in their 1st XV for both seasons.

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R.I.P Norman Berryman

R.I.P. Norman Berryman

New Zealand Rugby said on Tuesday that cult hero “Stormin” Norman Berryman has died at the age of 42.

Reports said Berryman suffered a heart attack at his home near Perth, Australia, where he settled after his rugby career.

Berryman, a powerful winger, was a fan favourite during a long career in Super Rugby but played just 1 Test for the All Blacks, a 23 / 24 loss to South Africa in 1998.

He was widely considered to be unlucky to miss out on more Test caps but was competing for spots against the likes of Jonah Lomu and Inga Tuigamala.

Berryman also did himself no favours with his outspoken criticism of then All Blacks coach John Hart, who he said “has got a vibe about him that projects negativity”.

He famously walked out of an All Blacks training camp in Auckland and hitch-hiked home to Whangarei after a disagreement with Hart.

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CrusadersSaracens RugbyAn ambitious plan to stage a match between New Zealand’s Crusaders Knights and English Premiership club Saracens in New Orleans has been cancelled.

The planned fixture on 1 August at New Orleans’ 70 000-capacity SuperDome was designed to capitalise on growing US interest in Rugby Union.

However, the fixture – just like the Independence Cup match, an encounter between the newly formed NRFL Rough Riders and English Premiership giants Leicester Tigers – has become a victim of the ongoing battle between USA Rugby and RugbyLaw.

USA Rugby is the recognised national controlling body registered with World Rugby, while RugbyLaw is planning to launch a new professional league, the NRFL, in the United States.

However, USA Rugby declined to sanction the encounter between Tigers and the Rough Riders – because the Rough Riders are not registered with USA Rugby.

Now the dispute between USA Rugby and RugbyLaw have claimed another victim.

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CrusadersThe Crusaders have re-signed a number of their current players who come off contract at the end of this season, including All Black Ryan Crotty and centre Robbie Fruean.

After prop Wyatt Crockett’s re-signing until the end of 2018 was announced earlier this week, Crotty signed up until the end of 2017. Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder said both players would play an important role in next year’s squad both on and off the field, as 2 of the senior members of the squad.

Dynamic centre Fruean will return in 2016, determined to show more of the flair that we saw in the few games he was able to play this season. Fruean had his season cut short by a fractured arm sustained in the 3rd Round, but made an impressive return from injury to assist his team to wins against the Hurricanes and Blues recently. Blackadder said he had made an immediate impact when he returned to play and he looks forward to seeing him inject more of that power and punch into the Crusaders backline next season.

Joining Crockett and already contracted Owen Franks at prop again next season will be Tim Perry. Perry has had a frustrating season on the sidelines after an injury sustained in the 2014 National Provincial Championship semifinal, however Blackadder said he is a quality player who is getting back to his best and he is sure that he will be ready to make an impact in 2016.

Codie Taylor, who has impressed at hooker this year, will also return in 2016. Blackadder said he had made strides in his setpiece skills this season and his attacking abilities give him an exciting edge.

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Nepo Laulala

Nepo Laulala

The Chiefs have signed 23 year-old tighthead prop Nepo Laulala for the next 2 years.

At 1.84m and 116kg, the young prop’s ITM Cup and Super Rugby form caught the attention of the Chiefs, who swooped to nab him from the Crusaders.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said, “Nepo is a powerful and explosive tighthead who has made a big impression over the past couple of seasons. He’s a good man with high aspirations who we believe will make a positive contribution in our environment.”

Laulala attended Wesley College in South Auckland and was part of the school’s First XV side. He joined the Canterbury Academy and made his 1st appearance for their ITM Cup side in 2011.

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Wyatt Crockett

Wyatt Crockett

All Blacks and Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett will continue to play his rugby in New Zealand and for the Crusaders for another 3 years, having re-signed through to the end of the 2018 season.

Crockett has been a vital member of the Crusaders’ front row since 2006 and made his All Blacks debut in 2009.

He was named the New Zealand Super Rugby Player of the Year in 2011 and has established himself as an All Blacks regular since 2013.

Crockett recently became the most capped-Crusader, surpassing Corey Flynn’s record of 151 games, and 3rd on the all-time list and his re-signing will give him the chance to become the most capped Super Rugby player ever (currently Keven Mealamu who is on 174 caps).

His work rate around the field sets him apart from many other props, and he is also recognised as one of the most skilled scrummagers in the game.

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