Rob Penney backs Crusaders to turn the corner after worst ever Super Rugby start

David Skippers
Crusaders huddle SRP 2023 - Alamy.jpg

Defending Super Rugby Pacific champions the Crusaders.

Crusaders head coach Rob Penney insists his team will turn the corner after their worst start in Super Rugby history and urged his critics not to judge his side so early in the competition.

The defending champions reached an all-time low when they suffered a narrow 14-10 defeat against the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Friday, which followed losses to the Chiefs, Waratahs and Fijian Drua in their previous matches.

Too early to be judged

Apart from it being their worst Super Rugby start, it was their first four-match losing streak ever but Penney feels it’s too early to judge his side.

”It’s not ideal. But you don’t win the cup in the first four rounds,“ he said shortly after the Crusaders‘ loss to the Hurricanes.

“I think we proved that we are eminently capable and very competitive. Let’s see what happens in two months’ time.”

While it is still the early stages of Super Rugby Pacific, Penney must be feeling the heat as his team are languishing in 11th position in the 12-team competition with two points amassed, with the Western Force propping up the table below them.

Judging from the fixture list, the task will not be getting easier for the Christchurch-based outfit as they have matches against the high-riding Blues (away) and Chiefs (home) looming on the horizon before having a bye in Round Seven.

If they lose both of those matches, the Crusaders could face the prospect of having to win seven out of their last eight to reach the tournament’s knockout stages.

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“It’s definitely deflating, but it’s tough to swallow as well,” said the team’s interim captain David Havili. “But we’ve just go to stay the course and keep going.

“We’ve got a young group in there willing to work hard for each other and we’ve just got to keep staying together and it’s going to come for us.”

Havili took over the captaincy after regular skipper Scott Barrett was sidelined for six weeks ahead of the Hurricanes game due to a finger injury.

Long injury list

Barrett is just one of several players who are currently sidelined with props Tamaiti Williams (hamstring) and Joe Moody (Covid), back-row Ethan Blackadder (calf), hooker Brodie McAlister (knee), full-back Leigh Halfpenny (shoulder) and fly-half duo Fergus Burke (Achilles) and Rivez Reihana (shoulder) all set to return later in the season.

Apart from those players, backline stars Will Jordan Will Jordan (shoulder) and Braydon Ennor (knee) are ruled out for the season, while experienced All Black hooker Codie Taylor is on a non-playing sabbatical and is not expected to play again until early May.

Moody should be ruled fit to face the Blues while Penney is hopeful of having Burke back in action for their clash against the Chiefs.

“He’s a probably a 5% chance before the bye, very minimal but not totally excluded,” said the coach.

“We’ve got some work to do between now and post Blues. He’s very keen, and maybe the sensible course would maybe be not to push him. Not that we’re pushing him, he’s pushing himself.”

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