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'That's not us': Razor defends Crusaders' cynical play in red zone against Blues

By Ben Smith
Willi Heinz and Richie Mo'unga of the Crusaders celebrate after winning the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between Blues and Crusaders at Eden Park, on March 18, 2023, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has defended his side’s approach to defending in the red zone after his side came away with a 34-28 win over the Blues at Eden Park.

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The Crusaders aggressive defence came up with big plays but pushed the boundaries at the breakdown to spoil the Blues’ ball and were penalised frequently for infringing in the red zone while on defence.

After a spate of penalties early in the second half captain Scott Barrett was warned when Codie Taylor was pinged for not releasing the tackled player but no yellow came from repeated infringements.

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Eventually Kershawl Sykes-Martin was yellow carded in the 65th minute for ‘keeping his hands on the ball the whole time’, which Sky Sport commentator Tony Johnson described as ‘riding their luck big time’ before the referee finally had enough.

Robertson shared his philosophy to the ruck defence during his post-game comments, saying he wants the ball to come to his players not the other way around.

“The ball comes to you, you don’t go to the ball,” he said of the Crusaders ruck defence philosophy.

“If you start overplaying… it’s got to be clear and obvious, it’s not ‘I’m looking for it’.

“Be patient, be clean, obviously we got the yellow on the ground for holding in there, and that’s not us.”

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The Crusaders defence’s never say die attitude produced two major try-saving efforts, dislodging the ball on two occasions for James Tucker and Hoskins Sotutu.

All Black lock Sam Whitelock produced a pivotal steal at the ruck with a minute remaining while during the final Blues possession they were held up off for a collapsed maul turnover.

Robertson put the defensive plays down to effort but assessed his side as “poor” in the second half as they could not execute the game plan they had devised.

“I just think there are fine margins, they were just effort clips, Richie getting back [on Sotutu], Macca Springer getting back.

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“Three or four tries that were tries just because of a little moment. We were quite poor in the second half.

“Everything we talked about, we didn’t do, but we were great in the first half.

“It just shows how fine the margins are.”

The Crusaders head coach praised the Blues ability to keep ball in hand which prevented the visitors from implementing their plan.

“We wanted to make them make 200 tackles, they made us make 300. It swung back massively,” he said.

“When they get a ball carrier and roll on, they can roll you backwards. It was like league a little bit, isn’t it?”

On how the side was able to bounce back from the shock loss to the Drua in Fiji last week, Robertson said he lifted his team by focusing the side on the effort plays they were making.

The message was that the side ‘wasn’t far away’ after an experimental side fell short to the Fijian Drua.

“We just kept showing the effort stuff. What we were good at and doing really well, and what we needed to tidy up.

“Just a couple of get betters. We just talked ‘we are that far away’.

“We rolled [the dice] last week with the squad, didn’t quite get there. We catch a kick-off, we win that game.

“There was only a couple of moments against the Chiefs really, that went bang-bang. So we were that close.

“We wanted to perform today and get back on it.”

Although the Crusaders brought back a number of big names for the Blues clash, their depth has been tested this season.

They were dealt a blow with the news that All Black prop Fletcher Newell will miss the season while David Havili joined Jack Goodhue on the sidelines.

In Havili’s place, young midfielder Dallas McLeod started in the 12 jersey and was exceptional in the 34-28 win.

“We’ve got 12 guys injured that will be really proud. We did a lot for a lot of them,” Robertson said.

“We’ve gone deep already, a lot of them will come back but we just want to turn our attention to each game.

“Look at Dallas McLeod. How good was he? Big uce, he was amazing.”

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