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Penney is no Razor copycat: 'We'll bring our own ammunition to the fight'

INTERVIEW: The Crusaders launch their bid for an eighth straight Super Rugby title on Friday, with new head coach Rob Penney out to emulate the stunning success – but not the breakdancing – of Scott Robertson.

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Robertson left to coach the All Blacks having led the Crusaders to seven titles in a row, after which he did some breakdancing on the pitch each time in what became his trademark celebration.

Now under Penney, the Crusaders kick off the new season at the Chiefs in a repeat of last year’s Final, when the visitors ground out a 25-20 victory.

“The Chiefs in Hamilton – it doesn’t get any tougher,” Penney, 59, told AFP.

“It’s a bit of a grudge match, I guess, but we are approaching it with a new group.

“We’ll bring our own ammunition to the fight.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge to see where we are at.”

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The New Zealander faces a tough start against a Chiefs side boasting All Blacks playmaker Damian McKenzie and with loose forward Luke Jacobson captaining the team.

Moreover, the Crusaders suffered a pre-season double injury blow.

All Blacks wing Will Jordan is sidelined for the entire Super Rugby season after shoulder surgery.

British and Irish Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny is out for up to four months with a torn pectoral muscle.

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Penney already had his work cut out finding replacements for playmaker Richie Mo’unga and veteran lock Sam Whitelock, who both went overseas.

Penney says the Crusaders have the strength in depth to cope.

They still boast plenty of All Blacks experience in Scott Barrett, who captains the team at lock, with centres Ryan Crotty and David Havili in midfield.

Penney returns to Super Rugby three years since the Waratahs sacked him after they lost their first five games of the 2021 season.

Super Rugby comprises 12 teams – five each from Australia and New Zealand plus the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika, who include players from the Pacific islands.

After 15 rounds of regular competition, the top eight progress to the knockout rounds to decide the champion in late June.

 ‘Staying at the forefront’

Penney is relishing the challenge of continuing Robertson’s legacy, but won’t be breakdancing should the Crusaders win this year’s Final.

“I’m an outstanding disco dancer,” he said with a smile, “but there will be none of that.”

Crusaders fans won’t expect a repeat of Robertson’s dance moves, but they will want the same level of success.

“The expectation is that nothing changes,” Penney said.

“Long may that continue, it’s a big part of why the organisation is so successful.

“I’m not trying to replicate, just to ensure the organisation stays at the forefront and continue what Razor [Robertson] did.”

A host of All Blacks are missing from New Zealand’s other Super Rugby sides this year with Sam Cane, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett and Ardie Savea all playing in Japan following last year’s World Cup.

In Savea’s absence, England flank Brad Shields captains the Hurricanes, who face the Western Force on Friday.

All Blacks scrumhalves Cam Roigard and TJ Perenara will battle for the Hurricanes’ No.9 shirt.

New Zealand loose forward Dalton Papalii has been named captain of the Blues, who host the Fijian Drua on Saturday, replacing All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu after he suffered a broken jaw in pre-season.

It’s been a decade since a New Zealand side last failed to win the Super Rugby title, when the Waratahs beat the Crusaders in the 2014 Final.

The Brumbies, who host the embattled Melbourne-based Rebels on Saturday, are looking to emulate their run to last year’s semifinals, where they lost to the Chiefs.

The future of the cash-strapped Rebels is uncertain after they went into voluntary administration in January.

Rebels captain Rob Leota has admitted it is hard to keep the squad focused with their livelihoods under threat, but Rugby Australia has stepped in to ensure the team can play this season.

Super Rugby Round One fixtures

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