In the first of our previews for the 2012 Super Rugby season we look at Super Rugby's most succesful franchise, the Crusaders from Christchurch, New Zealand.
2011 was a remarkable year for the Crusaders, who went on to secure a spot in the Super Rugby final even after playing every match away from their earthquake-stricken home of Christchurch.
Despite losing loved ones and their own homes to the destructive earthquake, the Cantabrians continued to excel under the difficult circumstances, travelling over 100 000km before reaching the Brisbane finale in style.
Having played second fiddle to the Reds in last year's final and narrowly missing out on Super Rugby spoils, the Crusaders will be even hungrier for success in 2012 and will no doubt be one of the tournament's top competitors.
They head into this year's competition as strong as ever with incredible depth and an exceptional squad.
Seven of the eight positions in their top pack are filled by All Blacks and, while Richie McCaw will only return from injury in round five, 23-year-old Matt Todd will no doubt step up to the plate once more and continue to provide only the best possible cover.
The Crusaders will, however, miss the services of pack enforcer Brad Thorn who has opted to ply his trade in Japan.
With arguably one of the best backlines in world rugby, the Crusaders seem to have all their bases covered. With lightning fast wingers Zac Guildford and Sean Maitland, the Crusaders will continue to punish opponents with their thrilling counter-attack, while fullback Israel Dagg also heads into this season fired-up and in the best form of his life.
Daniel Carter is once again unmatched at pivot and will look to shine after the groin injury setback which saw him dramatically exit the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The All Black flyhalf will be missed during the opening rounds of the tournament but will bring an unrivalled sense of experience and dependability when he returns to the fold.
The Crusaders have a reputation for their effortless execution and resilient game plan and, with the stability of a new home venue in Christchurch this season, they will no doubt be the team to beat in 2012.
Prediction: The play-offs at the very least.