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'Pretty average footy': Crusaders coach Scott Robertson vents frustration despite win over Brumbies

By Alex McLeod

Trending on RugbyPass

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Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has vented his frustrations after his side had to rely on a missed conversion from Noah Lolesio to secure victory over the Brumbies on Saturday.

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The Super Rugby Aotearoa champions were pushed to the limit by the Super Rugby AU runners-up at Orangtheory Stadium, as a Rob Valetini try in the dying stages of the contest brought the visitors to within just two points of the Crusaders.

Lolesio’s sideline conversion after the full-time siren just faded away to the left, though, allowing the Crusaders to get out of jail and notch up their first win in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman with a 31-29 victory in Christchurch.

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The result was part of a Kiwi whitewash of their Australian counterparts in the opening round of the cross-border competition, with all five New Zealand teams picking up wins in contrasting fashions.

The Blues and Highlanders looked convincing in their large wins over the Rebels and under-strength Reds, respectively, while the Hurricanes simply outscored the Waratahs in a 64-48 frenzy in Sydney.

However, similarly to the Chiefs in their one-point victory over the Force in Perth, the Crusaders struggled to put away the Brumbies, even when they led by 14 points leading into the final 10 minutes of the contest.

That buffer was the largest the Crusaders enjoyed over their historic Australian foes throughout the entire match as the Brumbies continually found a way to keep themselves in the game.

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Looking unusually out of sync, the Crusaders endured a torrid opening half of action, by their lofty standards, as the first quarter of the match was marred by constant scrum resets with both forward packs struggling to adapt to each other.

Their inefficiency at the set piece was the focal point of Robertson’s frustrations, as was his side’s ill-discipline and poor execution.

“I thought we played some great footy and also some pretty average footy, for our standards,” he told media shortly after the match on Saturday.

“We knew they were going to be tough, we just couldn’t put them away. I thought in that first half, there were 20 reset scrums, we turned a lot of ball over, made a few penalties.

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“We played a lot of great footy in there, awesome footy, [but we] couldn’t quite get a rhythm or throw a knockout punch or get a connection, so mixed bag, mixed feelings.”

Much of that “good footy” was sparked by the brilliance of star first-five Richie Mo’unga, as well as in-form blindside flanker Ethan Blackadder, but even those two would have been irritated by the lack of cohesion on the park over the weekend.

Robertson said his players shared his frustrations regarding their performance as he refused to attribute the shaky display to the quick turnaround from the previous week’s Super Rugby Aotearoa final win over the Chiefs.

“We just weren’t polished enough. We wanted to make a good statement, especially with what Codie’s [Taylor, who became a Crusaders centurion during the match] done in his 100 games, but we just couldn’t land a punch, or a combination of them.”

While he admitted that this week’s post-match debrief is set to be “pretty robust”, Robertson has quickly turned his attention to this week’s encounter with the Reds in Brisbane.

The Super Rugby AU champions were missing frontline players Jordan Petaia (thigh strain), Hunter Paisami (fractured jaw) and Harry Wilson (concussion) due to various injuries in their 40-19 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.

Other key players, such as Taniela Tupou, Fraser McReight and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, were restricted to bench roles, leaving Brad Thorn’s side badly undermanned at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

However, the Queenslanders are expected to have that trio back in their starting team alongside the likes of James O’Connor (provided he’s cleared of a head knock that led to his half-time substitution), Filipo Daugunu, Liam Wright and Brandon Paenga-Amosa.

Former NRL star Suliasi Vunivalu could also feature in the run-on team after he scored two tries off the bench, while lively halfback Tate McDermott should be recalled after being handed a rest week.

All of that adds up to what should be a formidable Reds outfit that might not look too dissimilar to the side that clinched the franchise’s first title in a decade in front of a 41,637-strong crowd at Suncorp Stadium nine days ago.

Another large Brisbane crowd is expected for the Crusaders this Saturday, but Robertson is confident his side can overcome their sloppy start to the Trans-Tasman competition to score a win in what will be their first match abroad since last March.

“They’re great on Queensland soil, aren’t they? I think we learned a lot tonight, though, from the Brumbies that’ll help us next week,” he said.

The Crusaders are likely to be without loose forward Tom Sanders for that match after he broke his nose and failed an HIA test during the Brumbies clash, although promising flanker Sione Havili is “hopeful” of a return from concussion next week.

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'Pretty average footy': Crusaders coach Scott Robertson vents frustration despite win over Brumbies

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