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‘Really positive’: Rob Penney insists winless Crusaders are ‘not far away'

By Finn Morton
Mitch Drummond reacts to the Crusaders loss. Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Coach Rob Penney insists the Crusaders are “not far away” from where they need to be despite falling to their record-equalling 0-3 start to the Super Rugby Pacific season.

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For the first time since the 1996 season of Super Rugby, which saw the Crusaders collect the wooden spoon in the inaugural campaign, the Crusaders are winless from their opening few starts.

The Crusaders started their quest for an eighth title in as many years with a tough loss on the road away to the Chiefs before being caught on the wrong side of a Super Round upset against the Waratahs at Melbourne’s AAMI Park the following week.

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But after being beaten by the Fijian Drua in Lautoka for the second time in two years, the Crusaders are now second last on the ladder above only the Western Force.

While the Force are 12th, the Crusaders are only slightly ahead with an uncharacteristically poor points differential of -27. But the defending champions don’t seem to be panicking just yet.

“The mood is really, really positive,” Penney said, as reported by Newshub. “0-3 is not pretty and there are some pretty disappointing images in that 0-3, but there are some really positive ones as well.

“We’re looking forward to being back at home. It’s been quite a tough travel program we’ve had, but that’s part of the comp and it’s no excuse.

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“We feel as though we’re not far away. If you look back on the game we’ve had, there were a couple of points in it against the Chiefs… had we closed out a bit better, we could have got a result.

“Waratahs, we were big moments of mess integrated with some really good play and some good fight.

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“Drua was unique,” he continued. “We had the boys in the changing room, almost half a dozen moments away from needing ambulances, with the difficulty you face up there with a 1 pm kick-off.

“There are a lot of things that can tip the balance in our favour and we’re aware of that. The boys are proud men and we’re determined to put on a great performance.”

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Across the ditch in Australia, former Wallabies outside back Cameron Shepherd has commented on how “great” it is to see the Crusaders struggle so far this season.

Shepherd has called on Super Rugby Pacific fans to “enjoy” the Crusaders’ poor start to the season.

“Great to see the Crusaders down the bottom. If the Western Force won on the weekend they would’ve been in 11th and the Crusaders would’ve been 12th,” Shepard said on Stan Sports’ Rugby Heaven.

“But then you look at that logjam in the middle… this weekend really is going to separate and we’re going to start seeing some real differences within the group.

“But at the moment, it sort of is anyone’s tournament.”

It doesn’t get any easier for Rob Penney’s men with the Crusaders set for three New Zealand derbies in a row as they search for their first win of the regular season.

The Crusaders host the table-topping Hurricanes in Christchurch in Round Four before matches against the Blues (away) and the Chiefs (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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