The war of words in this year's Super Rugby Aotearoa has wasted little time in getting underway.
On Friday night, the 2021 competition kicked with a breathless and highly entertaining southern derby between the Crusaders and the Highlanders in Dunedin, where the defending champions prevailed 26-13.
And soon after the final whistle had been blown, Highlanders coach Tony Brown fired an opening salvo, suggesting harsher punishment is needed to curb repeated infringing, for which he believes the Crusaders have a deserved reputation.
The Crusaders were dealt two yellow cards by referee Ben O'Keeffe, and were on the wrong side of a 15-8 penalty count.
But Brown is adamant more needs to be done to protect the integrity of the game.
"If you look at tonight's game, that's what's sad about rugby at the minute," Brown says.
"We had 60 percent possession, 60 percent territory... we only concede eight penalties and they're conceding 19 penalties and numerous penalty advantages against them and then two yellow cards, and they still win.
"That's the sad thing about footy."
Despite spending almost a quarter of the match camped on their own line, the Crusaders only conceded two tries.
In their 'game of three halves' warm-up match against the Chiefs and Blues, the Crusaders were stung with four yellow cards, raising further questions about their methods that Brown insists need answering.
"That's the battle against a quality team, they are not going to give you anything," Brown says.
"They are going to shut down all the space and push the letter of the law.
"Referees are doing their job but I know that they've had five yellow cards in two games, so something isn't working."
Coach Scott Robertson defended his team's approach, denying there was anything "cynical" about their defensive tactics.
"We defended really well and then someone would get half a foot in front and you'd get penalised and we'd be in the corner again," Robertson says.
"It was a pretty evil cycle for a long time for us but it's just the way rugby is. There are going to be cards.
"It's not that were cynical, it's just a judgment error about how deep you are.
"When you are on defence and under pressure the referee can pick up a lot of things, but there's no intent behind it."
Brown reluctantly offered some credit to the Crusaders, but his frustrations shone through.
"The majority of the game we spent inside their 22m, we got lots of penalties and we had a lot of maul opportunities," he said.
"From our side it's frustrating. But from their side, they defended really well.
"I think we dominated that second half and had all that time in the 22.
"On anther day we'd be 30 points up, but you've got to commend the Crusaders' defence. They were relentless, it's an All Blacks forward pack pretty much and they don't give points up easily."
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