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Rob Penney: Most recent loss 'probably as bad as we've had'

By Ned Lester
Crusaders No. 8 Christian Lio-Willie looks down during the national anthem. Photo by Janelle St Pierre/Getty Images

The championship DNA of the Crusaders is becoming even further obscured under the team’s evergrowing list of losses in 2024, a reality their coach isn’t denying.

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The reigning champions are currently the only team in the competition that boast fewer points on the Super Rugby Pacific table than games played, having claimed just seven points in 2024, 30 behind the unbeaten Hurricanes.

That’s not great news for Crusaders fans and even worse for their playoff hopes, with the weekend’s result dropping them from 11th to last place with six rounds remaining.

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The resilient optimism from Canterbury fans and cautious scepticism from everyone else over the poor record and quarter-final ambitions may now finally be wavering. Under pressure coach Rob Penney conceded the team are not tracking in the right direction.

“The performance was probably as bad as we’ve had,” he told media in Perth.

“The discipline and the errors are two things that we should be able to control. The staff are working really, really well.

“There’s a lot of good stuff happening in behind the scenes, and I know it doesn’t always appear that way when we’ve had such a topsy-turvy sort of performance and outcome.

“But there’s probably three of those games on reflection and possibly four that we could easily have won.

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“Yes, we’re one and seven. But it could have been slightly different. It’s not. It’s the reality.”

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Young players have been forced to step up due to the offseason departures and early injuries suffered by the perennial champs, with captain Scott Barrett among the multiple leaders in the team not currently available for selection.

The question was posed to Penney over how he feels his young team are faring under the pressure.

“The suggestion you’re making around the pressure and confidence and all that, it obviously is affecting, I would suggest, some of our players in a negative way, which isn’t good.

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“The boys are trying. Yes, potentially, those sorts of external elements create pressure moments inside young mens’ heads and I suspect there’s a bit of that.”

The returns of Barrett as well as All Black midfielder David Havili are nearing, and while hooker Codie Taylor’s sabbatical was initially slated to end in time for the playoffs, it’s yet to be confirmed when or if Taylor will make his return this season. First five-eighth Fergus Burke is also expected to return in the coming weeks.

The absence of those stars hasn’t left the team completely devoid of star power, with winger Sevu Reece returning from his ACL injury in superb form.

However, even with the game-breaking talent within the team, the Crusaders are too often falling short of profiting on the scoreboard.

“We weren’t good enough,” Penney added. “We would put ourselves in positions to be threatening and either give a penalty away or make an error.

“Just far too many of those controllables that we weren’t able to control and we just keep releasing pressure.”

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D
Diarmid 10 hours ago
Players and referees must cut out worrying trend in rugby – Andy Goode

The guy had just beasted himself in a scrum and the blood hadn't yet returned to his head when he was pushed into a team mate. He took his weight off his left foot precisely at the moment he was shoved and dropped to the floor when seemingly trying to avoid stepping on Hyron Andrews’ foot. I don't think he was trying to milk a penalty, I think he was knackered but still switched on enough to avoid planting 120kgs on the dorsum of his second row’s foot. To effectively “police” such incidents with a (noble) view to eradicating play acting in rugby, yet more video would need to be reviewed in real time, which is not in the interest of the game as a sporting spectacle. I would far rather see Farrell penalised for interfering with the refereeing of the game. Perhaps he was right to be frustrated, he was much closer to the action than the only camera angle I've seen, however his vocal objection to Rodd’s falling over doesn't legitimately fall into the captain's role as the mouthpiece of his team - he should have kept his frustration to himself, that's one of the pillars of rugby union. I appreciate that he was within his rights to communicate with the referee as captain but he didn't do this, he moaned and attempted to sway the decision by directing his complaint to the player rather than the ref. Rugby needs to look closely at the message it wants to send to young players and amateur grassroots rugby. The best way to do this would be to apply the laws as they are written and edit them where the written laws no longer apply. If this means deleting laws such as ‘the put in to the scrum must be straight”, so be it. Likewise, if it is no longer necessary to respect the referee’s decision without questioning it or pre-emptively attempting to sway it (including by diving or by shouting and gesticulating) then this behaviour should be embraced (and commercialised). Otherwise any reference to respecting the referee should be deleted from the laws. You have to start somewhere to maintain the values of rugby and the best place to start would be giving a penalty and a warning against the offending player, followed by a yellow card the next time. People like Farrell would rapidly learn to keep quiet and let their skills do the talking.

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