All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor will only play the tail end of the 2024 Super Rugby season because of an extended post-World Cup break, defending champions Crusaders said Thursday as they unveiled their squad.
Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny and former All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty are key additions for the Crusaders when the new campaign begins in February.
But the 32-year-old Taylor, who started the World Cup final when New Zealand lost 12-11 to South Africa last month, has opted to take a non-playing sabbatical.
After a decade with the Crusaders, the veteran forward is only expected to return from round 10 of the competition in late April.
"Codie has been here a long time. For his longevity, it's important for him to have a wee break and he's earned that right," said Crusaders coach Rob Penney.
"He's due back about three weeks before the play-offs."
The Christchurch-based Crusaders are chasing an eighth straight Super Rugby title and will do so under Penney, who replaces All Blacks-bound Scott Robertson as head coach.
Crotty, 35, returns to the Crusaders on a one-year contract after four years in Japan.
Former British & Irish Lions star Halfpenny joins having retired from international rugby following his final appearance for Wales last weekend in a win over the Barbarians.
"It's a very exciting addition to our group. Leigh has been world class for a number of years," Penney said.
Scott Barrett captains the Crusaders, who have lost the experience of his All Blacks team-mates Sam Whitelock, Richie Mo'unga and Leicester Fainga'anuku after they signed for overseas clubs.
Among the New Zealand sides, All Blacks prop Angus Ta’avao has rejoined the Blues, where he started his Super Rugby career in 2012, from the Chiefs.
Former Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell will join the Highlanders and Argentina fullback Martin Bogado returns for his second season with the Dunedin-based team.
New Zealand-born England loose forward Brad Shields has returned to the Wellington Hurricanes after a spell in Europe with Wasps, then Perpignan.
Shields made 104 appearances for the Hurricanes from 2012 until 2018, before moving to England, where he played nine Tests for the national side.
At the Hurricanes he will fill in for All Blacks loose forward Ardie Savea, who is spending the 2024 Super Rugby season in Japan.
"Brad's presence in the team will be crucial," said the Hurricanes' Scottish head coach Clark Laidlaw.
"We already know his qualities as a player, so we are delighted to have him back."