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Former All Black pinpoints 'very un-Crusader-like' errors in loss to Waratahs

By Ned Lester
Scott Barrett fumbles for the Crusaders. Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

There’s no need for panic stations in Crusaders camp, despite a losing start to Super Rugby Pacific in 2024, says a former All Black and Black Fern.

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The reigning champions’ first game of the year, a narrow loss to recent final opponents the Chiefs, was a tale of two halves and a hard-fought battle that projected another competitive campaign for the serial winners.

Round two’s effort in Melbourne’s Super Round however was a different story.

The Crusaders turned the ball over 17 times with inferior tackle completion and lineout success to their opponents, the Waratahs.

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While the ‘Tahs are a team that are expected to be in a lower tier than the Chiefs, the Sydneysiders have had the Crusaders’ number in recent years, beating the Cantabrians in 2022 before being subjected to a more familiar Crusaders hiding last season.

This year is of course different though, as the Crusaders are beginning a new era after the departures of coach Scott Robertson (All Blacks), playmaker Richie Mo’unga (Toshiba Brave Lupus), lock Sam Whitelock (Pau) and wing Leicester Fainga’anuku (Toulon).

Just two rounds into this new era, the signs aren’t all bad according to the Kiwi pros turned pundits.

“They’re obviously not very happy but in saying that, I don’t think they have to hit the absolute panic button,” Former All Black loose forward Steven Bates said on The Breakdown.

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“We know you’ve only got to get in the top eight to make the finals. And, what you’ve also got to realise is they have lost a lot of player power, which a lot of teams have, but they’ve also lost a lot of coach power, an unbelievable amount of coach power.

“The one thing that’s probably a little bit concerning for them at the moment, is you look at that game on the weekend, I think they had a charge down try, an intercept try and a ruck turnover try. The other team didn’t have to do much work for those tries, which is very un-Crusader-like.

“That’s probably the biggest issue at the moment. If they get rid of one of those, or two of those, that game’s a different story.

“So, they’re not sitting pretty at the moment, but I don’t think there’s huge alarm. They’d want to put a win on the board pretty quickly.”

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For Super Round, the team debuted a new halves combination; partly injury-enforced but the youth of the two players injected into the starting XV – both New Zealand U20 representatives in 2023 – made the contest an insight into the future of the club.

In addition to starting side by side in the black jersey for the U20 World Championships last year, halfback Noah Hotham and flyhalf Taha Kemara have played alongside each other throughout their school careers and were even taught by former Black Fern Chelsea Semple at Hamilton Boys High School.

Semple was also on The Breakdown and agreed with Bates’ diagnosis of the Crusaders while heralding the two youngsters as “incredible players”, saying she has no doubt they will be “the future of the game”.

“I agree with Batesy, there’s no need for panic stations,” Semple said. “When I watch this team play at the moment, they’re trying a lot of things. They’re trying a new style of play. I think sometimes they just need to go back to basics, especially with the injuries they’ve had in really key positions.

“They’ve got a really young nine and 10 in there at the moment, they’ve got good players around them but perhaps just peeling the game back and doing the basic things well which the Crusaders have always done, will cut out those silly mistakes and penalties and stop the other teams’ score from rolling.”

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