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Scott Robertson laments Crusaders' lack of killer instinct

By Tom Vinicombe
David Havili. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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Despite building a 21-10 lead early in the first half and holding that scoreline unit the 76th minute of the match, a possession-starved Crusaders outfit have somehow found themselves licking their wounds after a late-game resurgence from the travelling Chiefs.

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While neither side were dominant in the first half, three times the Crusaders found themselves within a hair’s breadth of dotting down for tries in Christchurch but couldn’t quite get themselves over the line.

On the first occasion, less than a minute after kick-off, loosehead prop Joe Moody made a half-break on the Chiefs 22 but Braydon Ennor couldn’t hold the offload, which would have given the All Blacks midfielder a one-on-one with Chiefs fullback Emoni Narawa.

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It was Moody who also created the next chance, finding a gap in the Chiefs’ defensive line and making a break into the red zone before feeding halfback Bryn Hall, who was brought down by Sam Cane within inches of the try line. The Crusaders weren’t able to secure the breakdown, however, and Narawa was able to snaffle the ball back for the Chiefs (despite seemingly planting one hand on the ground first). At the very next phase, the Crusaders conceded an offside penalty and the chance had gone begging.

The next miss came moments before halftime when Ennor burst through the defence and raced down the field to the Chiefs 22 where he fed the supporting runner, Hall. Hall’s opposite, Xavier Roe, had tracked back in defence, however, and again brought Hall down not far from the line. Hall popped the ball off the deck to Ethan Blackadder but a last gasp tackle from Pita Gus Sowakula saw Blackadder spill the ball, bringing to an end another try-scoring opportunity.

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Not long after halftime, another Crusaders attack ended with little to show for it after Leicester Fainga’anuku was held up over the line by Narawa and Roe.

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That was to be the last of the Crusaders’ real opportunities with the final half-hour of the game spent almost exclusively in Crusaders territory. The Chiefs launched wave after wave of attack and even though the home side’s defence held strong for countless tackles, the wall eventually crumbled and the Chiefs managed two late tries to steal the match.

While coach Scott Robertson was pleased with his side’s endeavour on defence, he believed the Crusaders should have secured the match much earlier in the piece with their numerous chances.

“I’m proud of the effort. Really proud of the effort and the care the boys showed around the defensive side of it but all of us will be frustrated because 21-10, 20 to go, we just couldn’t get the ball back,” Robertson said after the match. “We know the Chiefs are courageous. They were desperate [and] took the opportunities at the end. We could have closed it out and didn’t.

“We had more linebreaks. We had a lot more opportunities than them, especially in the first half. We spent a lot of time in their 22 even in that second half and didn’t take those opportunities.

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“So we took the pressure off them [through] not executing. We had two or three clear chances to make it 25 or 28-10 but we didn’t, they hung in there and the game swung.”

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The narrow loss means the Crusaders have fallen to third on the overall Super Rugby Pacific ladder, with both the Reds and Brumbies remaining undefeated this year. While the lost competition points could prove costly down the line, Robertson will at least take heart with the commitment shown by his charges on defence – even if it wasn’t quite enough to get them over the line.

“When they got a roll on, their big boys just kept carrying and our tackle count went up,” he said. “We were on the wrong side of the ledger there and the game changed pretty quickly.

“Like I said, the defence was incredible for long periods and we created a lot. [It’s] fine margins, we normally get away with that. It’ll keep us hungry.”

The Crusaders will play the Blues in Christchurch next weekend before they get the opportunity to redeem themselves against the Chiefs a week later.

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