Crusaders reflect after Super Rugby Pacific form slump
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Crusaders have grappled for the past week with the causes of a form slump which has damaged their title chances in Super Rugby Pacific.
The 12-time champions began their slide down the standings three weeks ago with a loss to the Auckland-based Blues in a match between the top-ranked teams in New Zealand.
A loss last weekend to the third-ranked Australian team, the New South Wales Waratahs, came as a much greater shock and caused the Christchurch-based Crusaders to reflect deeply on the reasons for their shaky form.
Any conclusions the Crusaders draw may be more widely applicable to all New Zealand franchises which haven’t matched up as well against Australian-based opponents this season as they did in 2021.
The Waratahs were one of three Australian-based teams which beat New Zealand opponents last weekend. And the Queensland Reds, Western Force and Fijian Drua all lost but by margins of four points or less.
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson said the Australian teams are proving hard nuts to crack.
“We know how desperate they are. They’re dogged sides,” he said. “The Waratahs put us under that pressure cycle we couldn’t get out of and hung on there.
“How do we get better? We’re going to have to have a good look at our honesty, look at our weeks, look at everything. It’s all there, we’ve just got to complete some stuff.”
Most of the Crusaders’ problems were immediately obvious. They lacked focus and concentration, started badly and found themselves 14-0 down.
They lacked discipline and were reduced to 13 men by a red card and a yellow card during a crucial part of the second half when they were trying to catch up.
There was also a lack of, or deficiency, in fundamental skills. Their lineout didn’t work, their handling was poor and communication between players was lacking.
Patience and sound tactical judgement also were in short supply. Clinical finishing is usually a hallmark of the Crusaders and most New Zealand teams but that also was lacking. Even the Crusaders’ motivation seemed insufficient.
“We struggled to get a roll on but came out in the second half and fired a few shots but didn’t finish,” captain Corey Taylor said. “The ’Tahs played well and took their opportunities and they obviously wanted it (more).”
All of those areas provided fuel for the team’s deep self-appraisal ahead of Saturday’s match against the Perth-based Force.
“I think for us, it’s the kind of traits that we live by that we weren’t living up to.” Crusaders scrumhalf Bryn Hall told New Zealand media. “That’s probably the thing that hurt (most).”
Hall said there’d been “a lot of care and emotion” about the Crusaders’ self-assessment.
“But at the same time there were a lot of solutions, which is great for us because we can now go outside, get all that stuff down and get on the field and implement what we need to.”
The league-leading Blues open the 12th round on Friday against the Melbourne Rebels at Auckland, and the Reds host the Dunedin-based Highlanders at Brisbane.
Auckland is also the site of the opening match Saturday when Moana Pasifika takes on the Waratahs. That will be followed by the Chiefs hosting the second-place ACT Brumbies at Hamilton and the Crusaders-Force match.
The Wellington-based Hurricanes host the Fijian Drua on Sunday to complete the round.
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