Crusaders not fooled by depleted Reds' limp loss to Highlanders

Scott Robertson wasn’t bluffed by the Reds’ limp 40-19 defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend.

The Crusaders’ head coach expects a vastly different team to front against them in Brisbane on Saturday night, not one still coming down from a triumphant final, and one missing a host of key players.

He also knows the Super Rugby Aotearoa champion Crusaders must be significantly better in multiple areas after their tense 31-29 win against the Brumbies in Christchurch on Saturday night.

They coughed up a bonus point after almost butchering a 31-17 lead with 11 minutes remaining, meaning they will be “chasing points” on their two-week tour of Australia, which will conclude with a game against the Waratahs in Wollongong.

“Oh they're great on Queensland soil, aren't they?” Robertson said of the Reds. “I think we learned a lot tonight though from the Brumbies, it will help us next week.”

Expect the return of the rested Will Jordan and Mitchell Drummond for a match which should attract a large crowd at Suncorp Stadium.

Regular captain Scott Barrett, who was scratched from the Brumbies match after feeling unwell, should also make the trip, although it’s unclear if flanker Tom Sanders will.

He broke his nose and failed a head injury assessment test in the first half of the narrow win, joining Sione Havili Talitui (concussion) in the injury ward.

Regardless if Sanders and Havili Talitui are available against the Reds, the Crusaders will undergo a robust debrief before crossing the Tasman.

“I thought we played some great footy, and also some pretty average footy for our standards,” Robertson said.

Varying scrummaging techniques from the Aussies and Kiwis plagued the scrums, the lineout faltered a couple of times, and their ongoing discipline issues again hindered them.

The most penalised team in Super Rugby Aotearoa, Paul Williams pinged them 16 times, and yellow carded replacement halfback Ere Enari, prompting fill-in skipper David Havili to firmly put his troops on notice as they attempted to cling on.

Having made his first start since rupturing his ACL in his right-knee last September, centre Braydon Ennor also made a couple of mistakes which let the Brumbies off the hook.

He knocked-on attempting to plunge over the line on the brink of halftime, before missing a tackle he admitted he should have made on fullback Tom Banks, who dashed 60 metres to score.

“I usually pride myself on that. That’s a big knock on the head for me. I’ll take the learning from that one and get better,” he said.

The Crusaders are set to allow the Brumbies to use their facilities this week, after a booking botch up would have split them across two hotels in Hamilton for one night.

Brumbies coach Dan McKellar wasn’t having it, instead opting to base themselves in Christchurch until Thursday, before flying north to play the Chiefs at FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday night.

“Good people who look after other rugby people, we’re very thankful for that,” McKellar said.

He also made sure to pay tribute to Crusaders centurion Codie Taylor, although he won’t complain if the red and blacks don’t have a milestone to mark next time the teams clash.

“I think the last four or five games we've played against the Crusaders someone was celebrating their hundredth. It was [Sam] Whitelock in 2019, it was Israel Dagg in 2017, I'm pretty sure Dan Carter and [Richie] McCaw played their 100th against us.

“It's just that extra little motivation for the Crusaders against the Brumbies that doesn't make it any easier for us, but congratulations to them all, they're brilliant.”