Scott Robertson insists injury-hit Crusaders remain on track

Scott Robertson doesn’t need told his champion Crusaders haven’t been at their best the past couple of weeks.

Nor does it need to be pointed out there’s a sense among punters that the chasing pack have closed the gap and the red and blacks are vulnerable.

That’s the result of a heavy loss to the Highlanders, and their narrow golden point win against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Sunday.

Five minutes of carnage in Wellington resulted in the addition of All Blacks Joe Moody and Jack Goodhue to a mounting casualty ward, also fuelling the narrative the 11-times champions aren’t the usual Crusaders.

“We are 5-1, so we're in a good position,” head coach Robertson said when asked to sum up where his team is at, and if they’re still progressing.

“It’s never going to be all smooth, there is going to be a bit of chaos in there, you're going to have a few injuries, you’re going to be down, you’re going to get some calls from the refs and you’re not. That’s just part of it.”

The Crusaders, who are expected to provide updates on Moody and Goodhue on Tuesday morning, certainly had hiccups on their way to each title won the past four years, including back-to-back defeats in 2018, and a bad loss to the Waratahs, and draws against the Stormers and Sharks, in 2019.

They’ve not coasted through either of the previous four seasons without injuries to key players, and there's been no shortage of fixtures they’ve had to dig deep in to triumph.

But it's usually about now, as the business end of the competition approaches, when the Crusaders show their pedigree.

Practically assured a spot in the final, they’ve got two games – against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday and against the Blues in Christchurch Sunday week – to attempt to lock up the top-seed, and iron out the issues plaguing their game.

That includes general sloppy play and a lack of execution, ill discipline, and their breakdown cleanout. Set piece has also been below par the past fortnight.

They’ll have to do it without a host of key players.

Pending scan results on Goodhue’s knee and Moody’s foot aren't expected to deliver good news, meaning they’re likely done for the season, joining flanker Tom Christie (shoulder), hooker Andrew Makalio (neck) and Braydon Ennor (knee) on the sideline.

“There's always injuries, we were actually talking about it, ironically, [on Saturday], we'd been pretty good. Braydon was coming back in a few weeks, going to plan. Tom Sanders broke his cheek bone, otherwise we were in pretty good nick,” Robertson said.

“One game, five minutes of a game, things change pretty quickly. But to win a championship you need to go deeply into your squad. Teams are doing it and it includes us.”

Wing Leicester Fainga’anuku slotted into centre for Goodhue seamlessly in Wellington, notching 115 metres on 11 carries. The 21-year-old leads the competition in metres gained (526) – the next best is teammate Will Jordan (397) – has the second most clean breaks (nine), and has beaten the second most defenders (24).

Other midfield options include second-year player Dallas McLeod and rookie Isaiah Punivai, while George Bower, Isi Tuungafasi and rookie Tamaiti Williams, who can play both sides of the scrum, are the healthy options at loosehead prop.

“Does it feel like it's ramped up the last couple of weeks? I dunno, I just feel like the intensity and physicality, the contacts are massive,” Robertson said.

“It's good there's two rounds and a final, and then we can beat someone else up, in context, with a different competition.”