Winless Crusaders still in Super Rugby title hunt - Coach Penney

rugby28 March 2024 08:30| © Reuters
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Rob Penney © Getty Images

Canterbury Crusaders coach Rob Penney says the embattled Super Rugby Pacific champions can still extend their dynasty by another year as they brace for a tough home clash against the second-placed Waikato Chiefs on Friday.

Winless in the opening five rounds, the Crusaders lie bottom of the table, with captain and experienced midfielder David Havili sidelined due to a calf injury in the team's latest injury blow.

From winning seven championship trophies in the last seven years, the Crusaders' nosedive has stunned fans and pundits alike -- but all is not lost, according to Penney.

"For us, the goalposts haven't moved," he told New Zealand media on Thursday.

"We feel as though we're competitive with everybody and on our day we can beat anybody.

"Obviously, every week (so far) we've made it harder for ourselves, but we've just got to cement a place in the playoffs.

"If we can get there we know we'll be dangerous. We've just got to find a way to get there."

The 12-team competition's generous format, which guarantees the top eight sides at the end of the regular season a place in the playoffs, could yet keep the Crusaders in the hunt.

Australia's Queensland Reds qualified in eighth spot for last year's quarter-finals having won just five of 14 matches.

The Crusaders' chances of a first win on Friday seem slim, though, having been gutted by injury since the season-opening 33-29 loss to the Chiefs.


Halfback Mitch Drummond will lead the Crusaders, the fourth captain named this year after Scott Barrett, Havili and Tom Christie.

The Chiefs have rested playmaker Damian McKenzie but welcome All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown back into the mix after he missed last week's win over the Highlanders.

Australian fans will have to wait until Sunday for the country's most intriguing clash of the round when the Reds host the ACT Brumbies in Brisbane.

Les Kiss's fifth-placed Reds have scored the most points in the competition so far but were stunned by the lowly Western Force last week.

The third-placed Brumbies, meanwhile, have done little wrong since a 41-12 thumping by the Chiefs in round two and will hope to give Wallabies prop James Slipper a victory in a milestone match.

Returning to the starting 15, former Red Slipper will match Stephen Moore's Australian record of 177 Super Rugby caps at Lang Park.

The table-topping Hurricanes will also hope to celebrate a milestone win for their All Blacks prop Tyrel Lomax, who will play his 100th Super Rugby match in Dunedin against the Highlanders on Saturday.

The New South Wales Waratahs, languishing in 10th, will look to rebound from a heartbreaking loss to Fijian Drua when they host seventh-placed crisis club Melbourne Rebels on Friday.

Both the Force and Drua will try to post back-to-back wins for the first time this season when they meet in Lautoka in Saturday's opening match before the much-improved Moana Pasifika play the Blues at Auckland's Eden Park.