Chiefs loss caps off worst period in Scott Robertson's reign as wheels fall off the Crusaders' machine
The Crusaders have suffered just nine Super Rugby defeats since 2017. In that period, they’ve played 76 games, giving Robertson a remarkable 88 per cent win-rate.
Just one of those defeats came in the first year of Robertson’s time in charge, with two coming in each of the four seasons following – but we’re the Crusaders’ 2021 campaign is still only half-finished, with potentially eight matches left to play (two in Super Rugby Aotearoa and six in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, should they make the final).
Whichever way you look at it, it’s a remarkable record – but Robertson won’t be looking back very favourably on the past three weeks.
Having kicked the season off with four straight wins, many picked that the Crusaders would go through the Aotearoa campaign undefeated. All things considered, it was becoming a bit predictable.
Entering Round 6 of the competition, few would have given the Highlanders even the smallest chance of scoring an upset in Christchurch but that’s exactly what they did – and they did it in emphatic fashion.
The 33-12 victory for the visitors marked one of the Crusaders’ heaviest-ever defeats at home and just their second in Christchurch under Robertson – to go with last year’s slip-up against the Hurricanes.
In fact, the loss was the Crusaders’ heaviest since the final round of 2016 when the Hurricanes triumphed 35-10 in Christchurch.
The expectation after suffering at the hands of the Highlanders was that the Crusaders would bounce back with venom last weekend – but they instead needed to snatch a last-second victory against the Hurricanes in extra-time.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 17, 2021
Factor in last night’s 26-25 loss to the Chiefs and the Crusaders are sitting on one win from three matches and a three-week points differential of -19.
While the Crusaders did lose two in a row in 2018, against the Hurricanes (19-29) and the Highlanders (17-25), they were sandwiched by emphatic wins over the Stormer (45-28) and Bulls (33-14).
They’ve not had the luxury of playing against travelling South African sides over the past two seasons and, as the Chiefs discovered over 11 weeks’ worth of matches, it’s not easy to climb your way out of a hole when you’re having to battle against fellow Kiwi sides week-in and week-out.
Prior to Robertson taking over from Todd Blackadder as head coach, the Crusaders also suffered two defeats on the trot at the tail-end of the 2016 season (including that sizeable loss to the Hurricanes), but had dismantled the Rebels 85-26 the week prior.
You really have to head all the way back to 2010 to find a three-week period where the Crusaders struggled quite as much as they have over the last three rounds of action.
That year, they suffered back-to-back-to-back defeats to the Western Force, Stormers and Bulls – in Perth, Cape Town and Pretoria.
That, of course, is the flip side of not playing travelling sides – you don’t have to travel yourself.
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The past three weeks won’t have Scott Robertson sweating too much – they’ve improved from match to match after the flat performance against the Highlanders and came within a whisker of scoring a win last night despite having limited possession and territory to work with. They were also without a number of their key players for the game, such as All Blacks Joe Moody and Samuel Whitelock.
In many ways, the relatively poor results over the past three weeks really just emphasise how exceptional Robertson’s four and a half seasons with the Crusaders have been.
No Super Rugby coach has anywhere near as successful a record, especially not over such an extended period. If anyone can coach their side out of a rut, then Robertson would be a fairly safe bet.
The Crusaders will look to get their season back on track against the Blues next weekend before sitting out the last round of the regular season with a bye. While mathematically possible for them to miss out on the grand final a week later, it would take an absurd set of results for that to eventuate, with the likelihood being they’ll meet the Chiefs or Blues for a third time in the ultimate match of the competition.
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