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Pundits still can't bring themselves to rule out another Crusaders title

By Ned Lester
George Bower in the Crusaders huddle. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

Pundits have suggested this may be the worst Crusaders team in the club’s history, but also refuse to count the team out when it comes to the business end of the season.

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The Crusaders host the Chiefs this week with the threat of a sixth straight loss lingering, but plenty of unwanted history has already been referred to the record books this year.

In their loss to the Blues last weekend, the Crusaders ended a decade-long winning streak at Eden Park and relinquished what had been a suffocating grip on the rivalry’s stake.

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As the team’s results worsen, the intimidation factor that has been so present for so long also decays. For the Blues, the win helps forge a new pathway into the future of Super Rugby, one without the dominance of one team.

“It wasn’t a monkey (on their back) for the first 40 (minutes), it was a gorilla,” Sir John Kirwin said on The Breakdown when asked how good it felt for the Blues to get the result. “And both sides played like it.

“For me, both teams were nervous. I’ve never seen a Crusaders side this poor. You cannot lose that many line-outs.

“Normally, you’d think they’d (the Blues) be way more dominant in the first half, but it was the second half where they came out and were just very good for that 40.”

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Defence

83
Tackles Made
202
8
Tackles Missed
44
91%
Tackle Completion %
82%

Nine line-outs were lost by the Crusaders on their own throw, but that was only one of the headline figures to come from the match. A total of 44 missed tackles also exemplified the Crusaders’ uncharacteristic struggles.

There are a number of factors the pundits could attribute the Crusaders’ drastic turn in form to, but another former All Black put it candidly.

“If you put these two teams side-by-side on a piece of paper, there was only one result in this game,” Jeff Wilson added. “Pure and simple.

“There are All Blacks in that Blues forward pack; Patrick Tuipulotu came back, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, you’ve got Akira Ioane, you’ve got Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papali’i, the list goes on.

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“This wasn’t a contest on paper that the Crusaders were ever going to win. If Levi Aumua had scored that try – it was a remarkable piece of defence from Caleb Clarke to get back for it – it would have closed the gap but I don’t think the Crusaders could have come back and won.

“Let’s be honest, we had a 22-year-old hooker throwing to two 21-year-old locks, calling the lineouts, that’s why it’s misfiring. Up against a Blues team, this wasn’t even close.”

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Looking ahead, beyond the Chiefs, the Crusaders have a bye, then contests against the Waratahs, Force, Rebels and Reds. That’s a run of games Wilson expected the team to pick up some wins, if not make a clean sweep.

The pundit pointed out that it took five wins for the Reds to qualify for the playoffs last year, and if that were to be the golden number again this year, then that stretch of games would prove pivotal for the Crusaders’ playoff hopes.

By the time the playoffs come around, it could be a very different-looking XV that takes the field for the Crusaders.

Names like Tamaiti Williams, Codie Taylor, Scott Barrett, Quinten Strange, Ethan Blackadder, Fergus Burke and possibly Leigh Halfpenny could feature for the team, having played little or no minutes so far this season.

Wilson was adamant they could make for a nightmare quarter-final opponent.

“If they snuck in, if they found a way to get the five wins they need, you don’t want to play that team at full strength. You don’t want that game.”

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1 Comment
m
monty 109 days ago

Correct me if i’m wrong but the sadas have to win all games running into the finals yeh nah?

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Michael 17 minutes ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Cant deny Christie is a good defender, box kicks well at times, BUT he’s a second too slow passing from the ground. Roigard, Ratima and Hotham will be our 2027 halfbacks I believe DMAC has played reasonably well in both games, so deserves to keep his place - his two breaks at Eden Park should have resulted in tries. Reece was really to blame for the Taylor failure - he stayed too wide, if he had come in a couple of meters the pass from Taylor would have worked. The Perofeta failure was extraordinary, he is normally such a good distributor, failure to draw in Steward was remarkable, failure to look inside was a shocker. Cory Flynn as lineout coach… umm something a miss here. Not sure who is calling the lineouts, but clearly we miss Whitelock’s leadership. Having a disfunctional line out really underminded the AB attack. But let’s remind ourselves Itoje is a master, and their tactics of going for the arms of the jumper on landing and pulling over was brilliant causing Paddy and Scooter to both fumble the balls. I am a Blues supporter so I like Talea, but if you play him on the wrong wing look out. While he’s not the fastest wing, he’s elusive and very industrious always looking for work. However, he’s not the tallest player, and everyone knows his weakness (a) being turned in defence - he’s slow to turn and react and (b) never jumps for high balls is normally out jumped. Personally, I find Recce and Talea too alike - Razor needs to couple them with another complementary partner Clark and Narawa respectively. However, for me the real troubling challenge is our mid-field. I am sorry Barrett & Ioane are a poor combo - either Barrett & Proctor or ALB & Ioane - but having two mid-fielders who are poor distributors is nuts. Jordie had a forgettable game in truth he missed so many tackles, which to be fair is unlike him. But sadly both Barrett and Ioane chose to bash first and rarely distribute cleanly.

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