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Home / newzealand / Crusaders' influence reaches far and wide at Rugby World Cup | Matt McIlraith | Sport

Crusaders' influence reaches far and wide at Rugby World Cup | Matt McIlraith | Sport



T.New Zealand's Willi Heinz's career may have ended five years ago, but as the Gloucester halfback starts on the bench for England's key pool match against Argentina on Saturday, he is still contributing to a unique chapter in his hometown club's Rugby World Cup history.

By being rushed into the squad just prior to the tournament, Heinz became the 24thth past or present Crusaders player to figure in Japan and his selection made England the sixth team to field a Crusader within their ranks.

For one club to spread alumni over a quarter of its competing teams is unprecedented in the tournament's 32-year history, adding another glittering chapter to the drama-filled story of an organization that only came into existence nine years after the World Cup born.

It also stands as a further testament to the standards of excellence the Crusaders have achieved, following an inauspicious start to life in 1996 when the team finished last in the first edition of the Super 12 competition it had been created for.

Winners of Super Rugby for the 10thth In the competition's 24-season history earlier this year, the Crusaders have current or former players representing Tonga (four players), Samoa (four), Fiji (one), Scotland (one) and England (one) at this World Cup. They sit alongside the 13 current or former representatives who are on the All Blacks team bus in Japan.

While the overall representation is remarkable by World Cup standards, it's probably not all that surprising given that of the 237 players who have worn the Crusaders jersey since the club was formed, 45% have also played Test rugby. As well as the 72 who featured for the All Blacks, the Crusaders have supplied internationals to 10 other countries, three of whom were also British & Irish Lions.

The first of those forms was a great trivia question: who was the first Crusader to win the Rugby World Cup? Pat yourself on the back if you answered Julian White, the English prop who was whistled as a replacement by then Crusaders coach Wayne Smith in 1997 and played one game while furthering his rugby education playing rugby club in the central North Island town of Dannevirke. .

Six years later, he was a member of the England squad that triumphed in Australia, before returning to New Zealand with the Lions, two years after that. White was a lighter lamp for the three New Zealand-born but adopted Englishmen who have followed the path from the Crusaders to the red rose.

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Team guides
Pool A: Ireland, Japan, Russia, Samoa, Scotland
Pool B: Canada, Italy, Namibia, New Zealand, South Africa
Pool C: Argentina, England, France, Tonga, USA
Pool D: Australia, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay, Wales


Photograph: Christophe Ena / AP

While Heinz is the latest, utility forward Michael Paterson, who played for both Northampton and Sale, made it first, followed by Exeter's "human tank" Thomas Waldrom. Waldrom, whose All Black brother Scott also played for the Crusaders, appeared alongside Heinz on three occasions in 2010.

Unlike the other two, Heinz actually played for the Crusaders against England before playing for them during a tour match while Stuart Lancaster's squad was in New Zealand five years ago. Bizarrely, Paterson earned his only formal England cap on the other side of the halfway line that night in Christchurch, replacing Bath's Dave Attwood late in the game. It is indeed a strange world.

That world has twice turned upside down for the Crusaders, first through the earthquake in 2011 that devastated much of Christchurch's inner-city, including their now demolished home ground, Lancaster Park. The earthquake, New Zealand's worst modern natural disaster, left 185 people dead, among them Crusaders board member, Phillip MacDonald.

The loss of Lancaster Park forced the team to play away from their city base for the rest of that season. Despite spending nearly 100 days away from their families on the road, the team still made it to the final in Brisbane before being stopped by the Queensland Reds. Eleven of the players spent a further two months later that same year, though this journey ended in success as part of the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup-winning squad.

Four years on, the Crusaders provided 10 of the squad as New Zealand successfully defended their title, allowing club captain Richie McCaw to become the only player thus far to lift the Webb Ellis trophy twice.

If the trauma of the earthquake had not been sufficient, the club's inbuilt resilience was tested again earlier this year after Christchurch was traumatized by twin shootings at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center, which saw 51 people lose their lives, and left the city once again grieving.

Less directly affected by the incident, the Crusaders did lift the spirits of the community by delivering a third straight Super Rugby title, but Al Noor's shadow continues to hang heavily on the club, with on-going discussions as to whether his name needs to be changed. , in light of its historical overtones for the Muslim community.

Already the last one has been seen of the sword-wielding knight the Crusaders have had as their logo since day one. It seems probable the name will be gone after next season too, even though fans largely oppose that move.

A new name might receive a mixed reaction, which would be unfortunate, but it should not hamper the on-going spread of influence by the game's benchmark club. With the World Cup showing that its domination is now heavily infiltrated beyond New Zealand, and the bulk of the current title-winning squad around for a while, the Crusaders, or whatever they are called in the future, should continue to thrive.

The Crusaders World Cup XV: Telusa Veainu (Tonga), Sean Maitland (Scotland), Jack Goodhue (New Zealand), Ryan Crotty (New Zealand), Sevu Reece (New Zealand), Richie Mo'unga (New Zealand), Willi Heinz (England), Kieran Read (New Zealand), Matt Todd (New Zealand), Nasi Manu (Tonga), Sam Whitelock (New Zealand), Scott Barrett (New Zealand), Michael Alaalatoa (Samoa), Codie Taylor (New Zealand), Joe Moody (New Zealand) Zealand). Reserves: George Bridge (New Zealand), Nafi Tuitavake (Tonga), Kieron Fonotia (Samoa), Ray Lee-lo (Samoa), Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand), Ben Volavola (Fiji), Tusi Pisi (Samoa), Leon Fukofuka (Tonga), Nepo Laulala (New Zealand)


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