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Crusaders remain the team to beat but outlook not so rosy for Highlanders and Force

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Super Rugby Pacific is set to return at the end of the month with the Crusaders and Chiefs kicking off the proceedings on February 24 in Christchurch.

The opening match is a repeat of last year’s semi-final, while the top two Australian sides, the Brumbies and Waratahs, will square off later that evening.

Five RugbyPass writers, Ben Smith, Finn Morton, Hamish Bidwell, Nick Turnbull and Tom Vinicombe, have run their eyes over the new squads and the upcoming schedule and have dusted off their brains after a long off-season to answer some of the most important questions for the year ahead.

Which will be the best and worst New Zealand teams?

BS: The best New Zealand team will be the Blues, with the most enviable depth. The Crusaders’ ageing All Blacks will see a lot of sideline time meaning their young developing players will take a much bigger load in 2023. The defending champs won’t be the worst, but they won’t be the best.

The worst New Zealand team will be the Highlanders who do not have the roster to compete with the other four. Across the board, they lack quality and two of their three 10s are Freddie Burns and Marty Banks. Signing old, experienced first fives has never worked out well in Super Rugby.

FM: There are a number of All Blacks who call Christchurch home during the Super Rugby season, and there’s a reason for that.

The Crusaders, much like the All Blacks, are expected to win every time they take the field. The decorated history of the franchise expects excellence from every player, and rarely do they disappoint. This year will be no different.

Led by super coach Scott Robertson, the Crusaders are welcoming back a familiar-looking squad this season. They’ll also be boosted by the return of the formerly injured Ethan Blackadder.

New Zealand rugby fans are in for a treat this year. After a Super Rugby campaign dominated by the Blues and Crusaders last year, there’s every chance that it’ll more competitive across the board in 2023.

But, they can’t all be winners. Someone has to come last out of the New Zealand teams, and this year that’ll be the Highlanders. The Highlanders boast some impressive talent in their forward pack, but their lack of depth in the halves and midfield may challenge them this year. With no Folau Fakatava as a backup nine, Aaron Smith will play an even bigger role for his beloved ‘Landers this season. As for their stocks at first five, the signing of Freddie Burns seems like a bit of a cry for help.

Meanwhile, teams like the Hurricanes are building nicely – with a number of their players coming off a successful Bunnings NPC campaign with the Wellington Lions.

Credit: sportingnews.com

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