Super Rugby Pacific: Coach Scott Robertson stung by Crusaders mauling at hands of Chiefs

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson appeared almost as shocked as every other spectator, after his side's baffling second-half capitulation against the Chiefs on Friday.

Leading 10-7 at the interval, the defending champions leaked four tries amid a 24-0 rout in the second stanza to lose their season-opening game for the first time since 2016, as they were dealt a brutal lesson by Clayton McMillan's men.

Trying to make sense of his team's performance, Robertson took a deep breath, then delivered a typically frank assessment.

"They were good and we were off," Robertson said.

"We weren't where we needed to be. It felt like a finals level game straight off in the first game and they were there."

Conceding 31 unanswered points in front of your home fans isn't the ideal way to begin your farewell season, and Robertson admitted the result had left its mark, struggling to put his finger on what caused the Crusaders to go off the rails.

"It stings alright," he admitted. "It hurts. The first thing you look at is yourself as coaches and what can we do better.

Ethan Blackadder in action against the Chiefs.
Ethan Blackadder in action against the Chiefs. Photo credit: Photosport

"We played some decent footy at the start. Then momentum went their way and we just couldn't get back going again.

"It is a mystery. We actually trained really well this week and had a really good mindset coming in."

Super Rugby's most decorated franchise, the Crusaders have forged a deserved reputation as fast finishers who punish opposition sides for their mistakes. 

The Chiefs flipped that script at OrangeTheory Stadium, forcing uncharacteristic errors from the southerners and driving home their advantage on the back of a swarming defensive effort and upfront dominance, spearheaded by All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick.

"They won a lot of kick battles. We made a lot of tackles. Our discipline started to go a bit and we were just on the backfoot," he added.

"They played good Chiefs style… they were playing good footy."

Rubbing salt in the Crusaders wounds is what appears to be a serious injury to forward Cullen Grace. The No. 8 departed inside the opening 10 minutes and was transported to hospital for X-rays. 

Robertson believes Cullen's injury is related to the collarbone fracture suffered during last year's National Provincial Championship.

The team will now try to regroup for their clash with southern rivals the Highlanders at next weekend's Super Round in Melbourne.

Robertson is confident the wealth of veteran savvy in his squad will ensure they rebound quickly, dismissing any suggestion of outside distractions caused by the ever-present media attention around his own future.

"We've learned every season is different. It still hurts, still stings - but there's a lot of experience in that group and the boys will know exactly what to say.

"We'll get this week right and we're just going to have to get straight into it

"We've just to be better on the field in lots of different ways. Simple as that."

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