Super Rugby Pacific: Crusaders not hitting panic button after disastrous start to 2024

They might be winless from their opening two games of 2024, but the Crusaders are refusing to hit the panic button.  

Despite winning seven titles in seven years under Scott Robertson, the Rob Penney era has begun with two losses.  

After a nail-biting defeat to the Chiefs in week one, where New Zealand's two best sides of last season matched each other for 80 minutes, last Saturday saw the Crusaders completely outplayed by NSW Waratahs.  

And with two rounds played, the Crusaders sit 10th on the ladder, as the lowest placed of New Zealand's five teams, with one solitary point which came in the losing cause against the Chiefs.

The Crusaders failed to beat Australian cellar-dwellers NSW Waratahs.
The Crusaders failed to beat Australian cellar-dwellers NSW Waratahs. Photo credit: Getty Images

But while many in the current Crusaders crop have known nothing but success in the Robertson era, Penney has made sure to bring in expertise of those from years gone by.  

All Blacks veterans Ryan Crotty, Owen Franks and Joe Moody have all played minor roles to start the season, as a means of helping the next generation come through.  

The three players were part of the Crusaders long before the Robertson dynasty, and are in some ways familiar with not being the dominant side.  

And with that perspective, the Crusaders' senior leaders know there's no point dwelling on what's gone.  

"You always want to start well, it's no secret, but it is what it is," said Crotty. "You can't change the past.  

"All you can do is bounce forward, and [ask] how do we be better this week?   

"Each day, we've got to be a little bit better. It's about not thinking too far ahead either.  

"You take it one day at a time, one session at a time and enjoy the journey. That's what it's about."  

On paper, though, there is more than enough talent in this Crusaders squad from the one that won its seventh title less than 12 months ago.

Sevu Reece against NSW Waratahs.
Sevu Reece against NSW Waratahs. Photo credit: Getty Images

While All Blacks stalwarts Richie Mo'unga and Sam Whitelock, as well as fringe player Jack Goodhue have left to chase overseas opportunities, a large core of Robertson's side have remained.  

What's more, the Crusaders' slow start to 2023 has given the current group plenty of know-how as to how quickly a season can turn around.  

"Obviously it's something unique," said flanker Tom Christie. "But we've got some amazingly talented players, we've got some amazingly knowledgeable players.  

"It's just about finding the source of what's not gelling at the moment, then moving forward with the solution.  

"Once we've got that solution locked in, we've got the players, we've got the coaches to make that solution work."  

But while the Crusaders are 0-2 to start the year, the run of fixtures over the coming weeks could see that record get even worse.  

On Saturday, they'll face a daunting trip to face Fijian Drua in Lautoka – where they were stunned 25-24 last year.  

Of the five New Zealand sides, only the Blues were able to win in Fiji last year, as the competition newbies reached the playoffs in their second campaign.

And needing to upset the form book to re-ignite their own season, the Crusaders relish the challenge on offer this week.  

"It's right where we need to be," said assistant coach Dan Perrin. "It's what we need.  

"We don't want it any other way. Fiji are big, physical men.  

"And after last weekend, we should see a response."  

Should the Crusaders fail to win in Fiji, Penney's side have a daunting run against the Hurricanes, Blues and Chiefs in the following three weeks. 

Join Newshub at 2pm Saturday for live updates of the Crusaders v Drua Super Rugby Pacific clash