Crusaders not hot on Fiji

Don't expect the Crusaders to host a game in Fiji next year.

Exactly where the Super Rugby champions will play their matches in 2018 has yet to be made public, although chief executive Hamish Riach has already declared the competition schedule, released by Sanzaar last week, isn't conducive to his club transferring a fixture to the Fijian capital of Suva.

When the Chiefs transferred their "home" games against the Crusaders to Suva for the last two years, they did so in the knowledge that the Fijian government would invest around $1.6 million.

Both teams were paid a fee, with the Chiefs, having taken the game away from Hamilton, getting a bigger slice which was understood to be worth more than what they would earn from playing in front of a sold-out FMG Stadium.

The Chiefs have confirmed they won't return to Suva.  Riach doesn't seem keen on the concept, either.

"We don't think there is an opportunity for us in 2018," Riach said. "The way the draw is, the opportunity to do something like that is very limited - so not likely.

"And remember that taking the game away requires the promoters to give us that opportunity as well. It is not something we are completely in the driver's seat for."

With the competition format reduced to 15 teams following the dumping of the Force, Cheetahs and Kings, each team will play 16 matches split on a home and away basis. The vagaries of the draw mean the Crusaders will not play the Reds or the Sharks.

Given coach Scott Robertson is likely to have around 12 All Blacks in his squad, possibly more, travelling to Fiji may not appeal for those facing a busy travel schedule for test matches later in the season.

This scenario was played out in 2015 when star five-eighth Dan Carter said he disagreed with Crusaders' board's plan to shift a game against the Hurricanes to Suva. In the end it was played in Nelson.

None of the New Zealand teams have revealed what venues they will use in 2018. Riach said this was because they wanted Sanzaar to release the draw as soon as possible, given there has already been a delay due to the saga involving the removal of the Force. All teams are in the process of booking venues.

"We felt it was much better for the public to see the draw, rather than wait for a further period of time."

Robertson said he has already signed "90 per cent" of his squad for next year. He is aiming to add depth with a third first five-eighth, a third openside flanker and a utility back capable of covering No 10, 12 and 15.

The Crusaders' charge to their first title win since 2008 should also add some zing to the balance sheet. Riach didn't talk numbers, but given his organisation was awarded around $137,000 appearance fee by the Lions, as required under Sanzaar rules, for playing the final in Johannesburg the digits in black ink should be reasonable.

There was no winner's cheque following the final in Jo'burg.

"We have had a pretty solid year, absolutely helped by going deep into the competition," Riach said. "But not by winning the title per se. That is what the rules are, I have long since given up worrying about that."



Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (Caption: Sam Whitelock led the Crusaders to their first Super Rugby title since 2008, when they beat the Lions 25-17 in Johannesburg)