For the first time in 15 years, the Crusaders will attack a Super Rugby season without long-serving flanker Richie McCaw.
McCaw hasn’t officially confirmed his retirement, but is widely expected to stand down after this weekend’s Rugby World Cup final against Australia at Twickenham this weekend.
His name is a notable omission from the Crusaders’ Super Rugby squad named on Wednesday, which includes 11 new names.
With veteran five-eighth Dan Carter also on the move, linking up with French club Racing 92 after the World Cup, the Crusaders will boast a new-look back-line in 2016.
Seven new backs have been added to the squad, with the No.10 jersey to be contested by Richie Mo’unga, former Waratahs and Fijian international Ben Volavola, and Marty McKenzie who shifts from the Chiefs.
The Highlanders have named a largely unchanged squad as they look to defend their Super Rugby title, with 29 players returning from this year’s successful campaign.
Mid-season injury replacements Daniel Lienert-Brown and James Lentjes return on full contracts while the loose forward stocks have been bolstered by Liam Squire (Tasman) and Luke Whitelock (Canterbury).
Beaten finalists the Hurricanes will be missing midfield maestros Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, but coach Chris Boyd says they’ve retained the majority of their squad and recruited well.
Among the new signings are Waikato’s Tongan prop Loni Uhila, young North Harbour midfielder Pita Ahki, 20-year-old Taranaki halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Auckland lock Michael Fatialofa.
In contrast, the Chiefs have experienced their highest turnover in three years, naming 14 newcomers among the 40-strong squad.
Coach Dave Rennie believes they’ve assembled a squad with a good blend of enthusiastic debutants and experience, with 12 current and former All Blacks in the team.
Among those returning to the Chiefs are Japan captain Michael Leitch and former All Black and 2011 Rugby World Cup hero Stephen Donald, who last appeared for the Chiefs in 2011.
New Blues coach Tana Umaga has named a largely home-grown squad peppered with returning stars and showing a heavy accent on youth.
The squad will centre round the All Blacks experience headed by captain Jerome Kaino and Charlie Faumuina, with Steven Luatua, Patrick Tuipulotu, James Parsons and George Moala all offering plenty of potential.
NZ Sevens star Rieko Ioane and brother Akira are among the most notable signings.