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Crusaders concerns: Where 'big guns' were unable to 'bully' Waratahs

By Ned Lester
Angus Bell of the Waratahs fends off the Crusaders defence. Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

In the wake of a hefty loss to the Waratahs, pundits and analysts alike are scrambling to diagnose just how much trouble the Crusaders are in as the team begin a new era without key personnel.


Three coaches from the team’s dynastic run are now in the All Blacks, with the ring leader Scott Robertson joined by former forwards coach Jason Ryan and former attack coach Scott Hansen.

The departures of All Blacks Richie Mo’unga, Sam Whitelock and Leicester Fainga’anuku have left some sizeable holes in the playing group and while depth is a traditional strength of the club, injuries to more All Blacks in Will Jordan and Tamaiti Williams have the team under pressure early in the campaign.

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Promising signs in the second half of the team’s opening game against the Chiefs helped alleviate concerns from a dismal opening 40, but the Waratahs performance brought those concerns right back to the forefront of the conversation.

“Not an ideal start,” former All Black and Crusader Justin Marshall told The Platform. “Obviously, losing their first-round game against the Chiefs away, then quite significantly it’s a home game for the Crusaders (in Super Round).

“So, we all know that banking your home games is important. Obviously, with it being Super Round being played in Melbourne, you are stuck with that situation. There’s nothing you can do about it.

“But, equally you have to have the mindset that if you do drop it, it’s a significant one because it means that you are losing a home game. So, it’s put them under pressure, no doubt about it.


“We did chat last week and I was impressed with the performance of the Crusaders, to the point that I thought they could have almost snuck the game against the Chiefs.

“But, not so impressed with the performance this weekend. Clunky, knock-ons regularly, a couple of intercepts, missed opportunities. They just looked a bit out of sorts.”


The Crusaders lost two of their opening three contests of the 2023 season and recovered to win the title, but while the team have shown that tenacity in the past, the nature of this season’s losses is clearly worth considering.

“No, they didn’t (have a great start in 2023, either). It’s a slight worry, it’s not massively concerning I still think they’ve got the firepower, I still feel they’re a side that shows enough that they can be there around the business end of the tournament,” Marshall continued.


“However, you’ve got to find your mojo quickly and the thing that concerned me out of both performances was in the first half against the Chiefs they were out of sorts, and then they finally went a bit more direct and got their game plan in order.

“They weren’t able to bully the Waratahs. And, that was the big question, you asked me about the Aussie teams and I said ‘unless they front up physically, in the scrum and the lineout in particular, they won’t compete against New Zealand sides.


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“Well, the Crusaders brought on their big guns and couldn’t shove the Waratahs’ scrum around, they didn’t really win many penalties, their line out got picked off regularly and was under pressure. That’s concerning. Those are areas they’re usually really assured and don’t miss a beat. They were off and that’s concerning because that’s usually a strength of the Crusaders that they just regularly front up in that zone.”


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Jon 23 hours 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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