Champion club's 'embarrassing' fall from grace

Champion club’s ’embarrassing’ fall from grace

This article originally appeared on Stuff and is reproduced with permission

A red and black season of misery has officially hit rock bottom.

In a remarkable fall from grace, the reigning champion Crusaders occupy the wooden spoon position after their embarrassing 37-15 defeat to the Force in Perth on Saturday night.

Now with one lousy win from eight games to their name, their second loss in Australia in as many weeks ensured they were leapfrogged by the previously last placed Force, a team littered with journeymen.

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In a season stacked with lame performances, this one takes the cake as the worst of all.

Poor discipline, bad defensive reads, a faltering lineout, loose carries, questionable decision making, an overly lateral attack, an ongoing inability to exit their half efficiently – the list goes on.

And, perhaps most telling of all when it comes to gauging where the Crusaders’ heads are at, they coughed up two rolling maul tries to the Force.

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Yes, remember when rumbling over the chalk via a lineout drive against the Crusaders was considered so difficult teams didn’t even bother trying it?

At the other end of the field, for what felt like the umpteenth time this year, the Crusaders made a meal of a lineout 5m from the line, the area of the field they once punished teams with brutal and ruthless efficiency.

However, the 2024 Crusaders are a team that somehow make every aspect of the sport look as difficult as cracking the Enigma code.

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Talk about taking the gloss off a night wing Sevu Reece surpassed Caleb Ralph as the leading try scorer (53) for the most successful franchise in Super Rugby history.

But that’s the reality, after they pulled to within 22-15 of the Force with a quarter to play, before leaking two late tries as they chased the fixture.

On a night they paid the price for their lack of discipline in the form of five Ben Donaldson penalty goals, the Rob Penney-coached Crusaders conceded a whopping 15 penalties, including two by All Black Fletcher Newell, who has developed a habit of getting himself into bad spots in the tackle.

Reece, Brodie McAlister and Riley Hohepa were all guilty of getting caught offside, while Joe Moody and Owen Franks got their technique wrong with their clean outs early in the match.

After centre Levi Aumua crashed over after three minutes to score his first Crusaders try, the string of penalties put them on the back foot and set the tone for what was to unfold.

Of course, credit must also go to the Force, who have ambushed plenty of sides in Perth over the years, including the Crusaders.

They made a staggering 207 tackles (86%) compared to the Crusaders’ 60, and mustered less than 200 metres with ball in hand.

It didn’t matter, they simply did the basics better and took their opportunities.

Their pack also took it to the Crusaders at the breakdown, flooding it with venom and ensuring the visitors lacked quality ball.

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