The Timaru Herald
Crusaders rue squandered opportunities
Scott Robertson isn’t about to let missing out on the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final detract from another title-winning year.
Don’t get the Crusaders head coach wrong. In unfamiliar territory after winning everything the past five years, he’s peeved they missed out on a top-two finish in the watered down competition, despite winning all five games and scoring a competition-leading 35 tries.
They can’t blame anyone but themselves, either, given he counted seven wasted opportunities to score tries in their 52-26 win against the Rebels at the weekend, leaving them short of the 33-point bonus point win they needed to make the final.
However, winning the brutal Super Rugby Aotearoa competition a second straight year last month meant it remained a memorable year for the red and blacks.
‘‘We had a really clear vision of leaving our mark on two trophies this year, and six in five years. But we got five in five years and it’s been a hell of a run,’’ Robertson said before the team flew home from Sydney yesterday.
It’s no secret the Crusaders regarded winning this year’s New Zealand competition, and the 2017 triumph after they beat the Lions in Johannesburg in the decider, as the most memorable among the five titles they won in as many years.
Beating the Chiefs in the final in Christchurch took a huge effort last month, before the finalists from both the New Zealand and Australian competitions had to back it up and kickoff a new five- week competition the fol- lowing weekend, one many punters regarded as nothing more than a Covid-19-enforced calendar filler.
‘‘Extremely proud of our effort and care we showed, preparation for the match, dedication of the boys over the last five weeks. But we just didn’t take the opportunities that we created ourselves,’’ Robertson said.
‘‘Plenty of opportunities, seven genuine try opportunities that we didn’t take in the game to get the job done.
‘‘The fine margins that define this tournament is a reflection of the structure of that comp.’’
Robertson was quick to congratulate the unbeaten Blues and Highlanders on reaching this weekend’s final, which will be played at Auckland’s Eden Park on Saturday night.
The Blues’ +119 points differential topped the Highlanders’ +103 and Crusaders’ +97, separating them after all three finished with 23 points.
‘‘They put some hell of a good performances in. The Highlanders’ win against the Brumbies was pretty special,’’ Robertson said.
After conceding 18 tries in eight regular season games on their way to the Super Rugby Aotearoa crown, the Crusaders conceded 18 in five games against the Australian sides, including a lastditch try to the Force in Christchurch which rubbed out a bonus point last week.
Ultimately, that’s what buried their hopes of winning the quickfire competition.
‘‘We’re really proud but also probably disappointed, over the last five weeks there was some big moments. Probably the biggest one was the last play against the Force, we probably would have had a home final in reflection, if you look at the board if we could have been better there.’’
Then there was the costly missed chances against the Rebels, including Braydon Ennor spilling the ball on his way to an open line, and Leicester Fainga’anuku going it alone before he was pinged for a doublemovement.
‘‘There was some upset guys afterwards, but you’ve just got to pat them on the back, you don’t want to dwell too much,’’ Robertson said. ‘‘One thing is there’s a few boys moving on. We spent a lot of time in the sheds reflecting on their time in the jersey that they’ve had with us.
‘‘[Leinster-bound] Michael Alaalatoa and the respect he holds in this group as he goes off to be Manu Samoa captain, it was pretty emotional. We’d have liked to send him off next week on a better note, but lovely words were spoken.’’