Crusaders face hard road to get season back on track

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They then travel to Auckland to play the Blues, then host the Chiefs before reaching their bye week.

Their situation is compounded by the loss of captain Scott Barrett, who suffered a broken finger while training before going to Fiji last weekend. Covid has also been lurking among the group, and Joe Moody suffered last week.

Coach Rob Penney said Barrett was a great leader and an essential part of their leadership group whose on-field performance was world-class.

"Every week, he goes deep to that well and is such an inspirational guy.

"He'll be missed but what we've got is some hunger with young men determined to make their mark on this place and that's their opportunity now."

Penney said rugby was an industry where things could happen.

"We knew we had some positions of vulnerability going into the competition, and, unfortunately, they've been the positions where we've been hammered a bit.

"The beauty about this organisation is that we have a reasonably deep well and we've got to have faith in the boys coming through."

While they worked hard on educating players at training, they could not replicate the pressures, intensity, and lessons of game time.

"I can't express how eager I am. We've got capable boys with good skill sets and we've succumbed for one reason or another to making a lot of unforced errors. We've reflected hard as a coaching group why that might be. We've integrated the leadership group and the players in those discussions and it comes down to some fundamental things and we can fix that quickly."

On-field reactions were an area of improvement that were exposed in the heat of Fiji. They had to embrace the experience and take it as part of the learning process because it was highly unlikely they would strike conditions like that again.

"We've got to be better at those on-grass decisions, we're putting pressure on ourselves."

Penney said there was still a lot of belief in the group. The weight of expectation had been on them since before they kicked off the season against the Chiefs.

Nothing had changed, which was good because it kept everyone sharp and looking to see every detail taken care of.

"It's important to so many people, and it's really important to us. But we also don't want to jump at shadows and search for things that aren't there.

"We've got to be mindful that we've got a good process – historically we've had good processes. We need to trust them, educate, step up and build confidence. And sometimes you need to dig into the resilience, and that's where we're headed right now."

Penney said replacement Johnny McNicholl arrived last week and was fit for consideration, but he needed to get his feet under the desk and have a little more time before he was considered.

With a rich legacy of competition with the Hurricanes, the Crusaders faced a confident group, unbeaten group.

"They've been fantastic, and playing a great brand. They've got threats across the part and will be rapt as one of the dominant teams in the competition."


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