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Crumbling Crusaders: 'I reckon they need to have a mini emergency meeting'

By Ned Lester
The Crusaders during a water break in Fiji. Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images

The Crusaders flew to Fiji to square off with a winless Drua while hoping to avoid a hat trick of losses themselves to start the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season. That losing streak was indeed extended in a round of results that flipped standings across the competition’s table.

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The other two losses came against the Chiefs and Waratahs, teams that like the Drua, have claimed wins over the Crusaders in the two recent Super Rugby seasons, only for the then Scott Robertson-led side to prevail at the business end of the campaign.

This year is of course different though, without Robertson at the helm and major departures and absences reshaping the Canterbury team.

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Rob Penney is now leading a rejigged coaching setup for a campaign that won’t feature names like Richie Mo’unga, Sam Whitelock, Leicester Fainga’anuku, and Will Jordan. While we’re also yet to see Codie Taylor, Ethan Blackadder, Fergus Burke or Braydon Ennor.

Still, the team persevered through injuries to nine All Blacks en route to a 2023 title and lost seven games in a row back in 1998 only to lift the trophy at the season’s end.

Former All Black Sir John Kirwan lent his perspective to the debate over how much trouble the Crusaders are in following the loss.

“I reckon there is a little bit of a crisis if I can have my two cents worth,” Kirwan told The Breakdown. “I have never seen them like this.

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“In Melbourne, they were really inaccurate, stuff I’m not used to seeing. When I talked about the Reds being accurate, there were little things they weren’t doing, they were missing cleanouts, there was just some stuff that I reckon they need to have a mini emergency meeting about this week.”

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That sentiment of more short-term concerns was echoed by Kirwan’s co-panellist and fellow former All Black, Jeff Wilson, who had previously picked the Crusaders as favourites for the 2024 season.

“There’s no doubt they’re in trouble,” Wilson started. “At the start of the season, before we’d even begun, I looked at their squad, I looked at what they had. If you have already looked at who hasn’t played and who’s not going to be there, and that was before the news that Will Jordan was going to be out for the season, so their most dangerous and influential back is now out of the picture, not going to play. It looks like he’s going to miss the early games for the All Blacks too. He’s gone.

“No Codie Taylor; doesn’t look as though he’s going to be a part of their campaign until later on, until maybe April May he doesn’t come back into the fold. So, you’re taking your starting hooker, who has been outstanding for the last two years and you’re taking their best player, their most attacking weapon at fullback and a lot of their experience, and they haven’t got experience to replace it with.

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“So, you’ve got two critical players there, and then Fergus Burke ruled out or is not coming back until later on this season. He’s not back until April, he was the guy, the experienced 10 they thought they were going to be able to call on. Also, no Braydon Ennor. No Ethan Blackadder.

“There’s no Whitelock and Mo’unga going forward, we know that. Ultimately I still think they’re going to be part of the picture later in the season.

“But, what’s crucial for them now, these early losses make it increasingly difficult to control your destiny in terms of home-field advantage (in the playoffs), and they’re great at home.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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