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The Crusaders start to the season shows their loss is the All Blacks gain

By Hamish Bidwell
Coach Scott Robertson of the Crusaders and Scott Barrett of the Crusaders pose for a photo with the Super Rugby Pacific trophy following the Super Rugby Pacific Final match between Chiefs and Crusaders at FMG Stadium Waikato, on June 24, 2023, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Not all coaches are created equal.

So, as I watched the Crusaders slump to a third-straight defeat, to start the Super Rugby Pacific season, I couldn’t help but think of Ian Foster.

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The Chiefs weren’t a bad team once. They just weren’t an elite one while Foster was at the helm.

In came Dave Rennie, though, and the team won back-to-back championships.

Scott Robertson was always going to be a hard, if not impossible, act for Rob Penney to follow at the Crusaders.

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On that score, Penney’s not unlike Foster.

If there’s a difference between what Robertson had and what Penney has now, it’s two key players.

We know all that. We know Sam Whitelock was the beating heart of the Crusaders and Richie Mo’unga its brains.

We knew they were irreplaceable and so it’s proved so far this season.

But no-one should be surprised that, by their own high standards, the Crusaders are struggling. We all saw this coming and predicted it months back.

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Penney isn’t in Robertson’s echelon as a coach, just as Foster wasn’t in Rennie’s.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

2
Wins
4
2
Streak
1
22
Tries Scored
23
20
Points Difference
54
2/5
First Try
3/5
0/5
First Points
2/5
1/5
Race To 10 Points
4/5

That’s life and something people on the ground in Christchurch need to make sure the Crusaders’ board is made to ponder in the coming months.

They appointed Penney and the results during his tenure are on them.

But what this situation does is enthuse me about the All Blacks and the potential for Robertson to do something quite transformational with that side.

He isn’t your average coach. He isn’t your steady-as-she-goes, let’s not rock the boat type.

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He is a man of vision.

More importantly, Robertson is a man able to sell that vision to players.

Notwithstanding the absences of Whitelock and Mo’unga, which are huge, the Crusaders’ start to the season speaks volumes to me about how good Robertson was.

How for all the quirks and occasional gobbledegook, he was just a winner.

A man who knew how he wanted to play the game, gave his players simple jobs, instilled them with unwavering confidence and then looked forward to his end of season dance.

Our faith in the All Blacks began to wane a bit in 2017. It took a further hit in 2019 and then we sat through the defeats to Argentina and Ireland and basically counted down the days till Foster was gone.

We hoped they might surprise at last year’s Rugby World Cup – and they came close – but some of us felt any encouraging performance was probably in spite of the man at the helm.

We don’t have that issue now.

Yes, the All Blacks have lost some talent. Not least Whitelock and Mo’unga.

But the Robertson appointment presents an opportunity to reimagine what this team is capable of and to invigorate the environment.

I’ve always understood the doubts some people have about Robertson. Hell, even New Zealand Rugby baulked at appointing him in 2019.

But the current state of the Crusaders tells us a lot about his prowess as a coach and should encourage us to hope for more from the All Blacks in the coming years.

If Robertson’s career has taught us anything, it’s that he’s not your average coach.

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Comments

3 Comments
N
Ngahana 129 days ago

Well soon find out if razor is a good as you imply or whether the current crusader performance is essentially due to their player situation.

h
h 129 days ago

“I’ve always understood the doubts some people have about Robertson” - Coming from someone who earns a bit of cash for writing occasional gobbledegook, it’s a bit ironic.
But i guess those of us who feel small, sometimes feel bigger, when we doubt greatness.

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