Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has lamented his side’s slew of errors that he believes cost them Friday’s shock 33-12 defeat to the Highlanders in Christchurch.
The Dunedin-based franchise produced one of their best-ever performances on the back of a drama-filled week following the standing down of six players, including All Blacks playmaker Josh Ioane, for excessive partying last weekend.
Criticised by large parts of the media and expected to be put to the sword by the reigning Super Rugby Aotearoa champions, the seemingly under-strength Highlanders pulled off a major surprise to topple the Crusaders in front of their home fans.
The 21-point victory was a record-breaking winning margin for the visitors over their South Island rivals, and it was also the first time the Crusaders had tasted defeat this season.
When asked in the post-match press conference where exactly his All Blacks-laden side went wrong, Robertson said the Highlanders – who, by comparison, had just two All Blacks in their match day squad – simply outplayed the error-stricken hosts.
“We made 22 errors, 15 handling errors, turned a little bit of ball over at the breakdown. Their urgency and desperation was pretty exceptional,” Robertson said.
“We missed a couple of early calls at scrums and lineouts. They did a really good job on us. We planned for it, but they still executed it. We couldn’t counter it.
“You’re just sitting in the box thinking how we could be smarter here, so it was a different feeling.”
The 46-year-old, who has recently been linked to the England job as Eddie Jones faces mounting pressure following a dismal Six Nations campaign, reserved plenty of praise for Tony Brown and his assistants.
Robertson said the coaching group had clearly used the off-field events that dominated headlines leading into the match as a motivation tactic for the playing, who he said responded well to it.
“They’re a proud organisation, some great players, and they haven’t been far away in a lot of games. Last time we played them was a game of small margins and they won those 50/50 balls.
“We couldn’t hang onto the ball in the wing a couple of times, made a couple of poor defensive reads, they hit the ground off a great kicking structure. Again, things that you preview, but they executed it.”
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Highlanders playmaker Mitch Hunt, a former Crusader, filled the boots of the suspended Ioane superbly in a man-of-the-match performance where he scored 18 points off the boot and directed play expertly.
Likewise, ex-Crusaders flanker Billy Harmon returned to Christchurch to haunt his old side as he scored the opening try of the match for the Highlanders. Robertson was left to rue the losses of both players as commended their respective efforts.
“If we could have kept Billy, we would have. It was just the model of the structure of our contracting. He was exceptional, he was a great player, and I’m really stoked for him,” Robertson said.
“They performed like we know they can, like he’s done so for us over the years, so well done to them.”
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