Rugby: Crusaders trade boots for rowing oars in bid for eighth straight Super Rugby crown

Next season the Crusaders are aiming for an eighth straight Super Rugby title. But, for now their focus is on another kind of eight - a rowing eight.

Next week they'll contest a rowing regatta on the Avon River, with five crews hoping to be crowned inaugural preseason champions.

Pre-season team building looks a little different for the Crusaders under new coach Rob Penney.

"There's just an art to it," he said. "It's not just about brute force." 

The Crusaders can make it eight titles in eight years come 2024.
The Crusaders can make it eight titles in eight years come 2024. Photo credit: Getty Images

That certainly comes in handy getting the boat down to the water though. From there it's a steep learning curve.  

"They're doing essentially in three sessions what we would probably take a whole season to do," said Christchurch Boys High School rowing coach Logan Keys.

Tuesday was session number two, and there's already been plenty of fine tuning.  

"There's been a couple blown off course into the far side bank, which was a bit hilarious the other day," said Penney.

"Every time I look at my oar, I look back and I'm off time," said prop George Bower. "So I had to have my head on a swivel to figure it out."

Half a dozen of the 2024 squad rowed in their high school years.

"We've got big Zachy [Zach Gallagher] up front running the cutter," joked Ryan Crotty. "He's done a bit of rowing in his day at Christ's College."

"To be honest, they're picking it up pretty well," Gallagher responded. "I think the average weight of us rowers with the boys in the boat is a big heavier than your high school kids to be honest."

With the boats able to withstand an average weight of 105 kilograms per rower, it's meant evenly distributing halfbacks with the props.

"Some of the boys have had to go off their breakfasts so they can squeeze into the boats," said Penney. 

"[It's] surprising we haven't actually snapped the boat," joked Gallagher.

And while some are rating their chances of taking out next week's title, for now, it's a different type of cleaning up.

"I think we're $1.20 favourites," joked Crotty.