Canterbury shape as frontrunner again

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

It is one of the more formidable records of recent rugby history yet it is notable for the continual renewal the side undergoes but which keeps bringing new players to the fore.

That is expected to be maintained under the new coaching regime headed by Glenn Delaney with his assistants Joe Maddock and Nathan Mauger.

Having the Ranfurly Shield meant the Canterbury side were prepared for their early challenges against the winners of the Meads and Lochore Cups and that was also a chance to introduce newer players to the side.

Halfback Jack Stratton said with several players still on Investec Super Rugby duty it was a chance for players from club sides to step up into the representative environment.

"The coaching staff did a good job of getting everyone on the same page and on the line and we managed to keep it and get some good results. It's looking good and we'll get guys coming in over the next couple of days again from Super to add that little icing on the cake with experience and all that," he said.

It's not surprising in the Canterbury-Crusaders environment the goal for any player was to get a Super Rugby contract and Stratton was no different but he said that was predicated by doing the job for Canterbury first.

He wanted to enjoy the Mitre 10 Cup experience and if something came along from that it would be a bonus.

Stratton had a useful boost to his season with inclusion in the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians side. It had been an 'awesome' week coming together to prepare for that game against the British & Irish Lions.

"It was a cool experience just to feel the whole nation was behind you and being at Toll Stadium with 19,000 people packed over the hill, it was just incredible," he said.

Stratton said he didn't quite know what to expect out of that game due to his memory of the Lions in 2005 being mainly about the hype surrounding the tour but the Whangarei experience had been most enjoyable.

From the Canterbury experience there was plenty to be learned from working with a first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga who is growing in stature after a key role for the Crusaders' Super Rugby success.

Stratton said it was good to work with players like him and picking up aspects of the game that could improve his own performance.

There'll be no shortage of competition for the halfback role for Stratton as Crusader Mitch Drummond is in the squad as is the New Zealand Under-20s halfback Ereatara Enari.

Other Under-20s players are wing Josh McKay and centre Braydon Ennor.

The pack had been largely retained from last year and they were continuing their desire to be strong at the set-piece.

"Our pack usually prides themselves on being pretty critical at set-piece and dominating those encounters so I guess that will be something to be carried on this year and it's always nice to be behind a pack that is strong and going forward so I'm hoping as a halfback for that to continue," he said.