Dear Crusaders fans, don’t cry that it’s over, smile that it happened

Crusaders fans, you had a great run. Your team’s record-breaking seven-year dynasty should be celebrated as any other Super Rugby side would have to be considered quite unlikely to ever come close to repeating that feat.

Coach Scott Robertson emerged as one of the smartest rugby gurus in New Zealand during that period, and playmaker Richie Mo’unga passed Dan Carter in the Super Rugby ‘GOAT’ debate.

Forget about the achievements of the Kansas City Chiefs or Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors, what the Crusaders accomplished should be the envy of every other team in world sport.

But all good things must come to an end. For the Crusaders, their run of seven Super Rugby titles in as many years seems quite unlikely to carry into an eighth season.

For the first time in team history, the Crusaders have started a Super Rugby season with four defeats from as many starts. The Chiefs, Waratahs, Fijian Drua and Hurricanes have already bested the reigning champions.

Those two defeats to Kiwi rivals the Chiefs and Canes were by within seven, though. But the Crusaders couldn’t quite hold on or rally when they needed to with the match on the line.

Excuses can be made, sure. It can be simple, comfortable and reassuring to point the finger and pin the blame on another person or reason, but it doesn’t hide the Crusaders from reality.

They’re 0-4.

The Crusaders haven’t been unlucky to lose. They’d be quite lucky to win any of their next few games as well. That’s not to say they can’t but it’ll be supremely difficult.

Let’s look at the facts.

Coach Rob Penney started veteran Mitchell Drummond at halfback in the opening match of the season before rotating the strike with youngster Noah Hotham getting the nod a week later.

But Hotham hasn’t been called upon since with England international Willi Heinz getting to wear the No. 9 jersey against the Drua and Hurricanes. That’s three halfbacks in three weeks.

There’s been some rotation at fly-half too with Rivez Reihana, Taha Kemara and Riley Hohepa all starting matches across the first four rounds of the season.

Excuses can be made about injuries to playmakers Fergus Burke and Rivez Reihana, and Taha Kemara’s absence as well, but has that really been the difference between winning and losing?

Reihana and Kemara have four Crusaders games between them.

Key injuries in the forwards to captain Scott Barrett and Ethan Blackadder are noteworthy but other teams are battling through their own issues and have at least registered one win to date.

Jay Fonokalafi debuted for the Waratahs last week after receiving a call-up from coach Darren Coleman while working on a building site. The Tahs went on to almost beat the Blues in Sydney with Fonokalafi scoring a try off the pine.

The Blues and Hurricanes are both without their respective captains Patrick Tuipulotu and Brad Shields, and the ladder-leading Canes are also missing Jordie Barrett through suspension.

The Reds don’t have Hunter Paisami or James O’Connor yet sit in second place, and All Black Tupou Vaa’i and lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi were unavailable to play for the Chiefs in round four.

The Crusaders used to be revered for their ability to develop Super Rugby-ready talent in a squad that already boasted world-class depth.

But the Crusaders don’t look like the Crusaders of old at the moment.

They’re a team that’s still trying to figure out what they’re about in the post-Scott Robertson era, and that’s okay. This was always going to happen.

But it’ll get worse before it gets better.

Next up for the winless Crusaders is a trip north to face the Blues. Last weekend against the Tahs, the Aucklanders had nine All Blacks in their starting side alone and they’ll be desperate for an improved performance.

The Crusaders will then return home to face the Chiefs in Christchurch before going on a bye. They’ll face the Waratahs in Sydney after that – the very same side who beat them comprehensively in Super Round.

There’s every chance the Crusaders could be 0-6 or 0-7.

Maybe the Crusaders deserve some leeway because they are the Crusaders after all. But if we looked at this as if they were any other team, we’d all almost unanimously agree that this is a side that was beaten by four better teams to start the season.

It’s over, and it’s time to accept that.


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