Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Horror start ends Todd Blackadder's Crusaders tenure

Armand van der Merwe of the Lions bumps off Richie Mo'unga of the Crusaders. Photo / Getty
Armand van der Merwe of the Lions bumps off Richie Mo'unga of the Crusaders. Photo / Getty

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder prepared his team for momentum shifts ahead of their quarter-final against the Lions at Ellis Park but few of his players, or anyone else for that matter, would have expected them to leak 15 points plus a player to the sinbin in the opening 14 minutes.

It was a horror start in what turned out to be Blackadder's final match as head coach before he heads to pastures new. Missed tackles - one a bad miss by lock Luke Romano on the blindside before he found himself facing Craig Joubert's yellow card for a maul indiscretion, a decision Blackadder described as "very dubious", all contrived to sink the Crusaders before they got going in the 42-25 defeat.

To the visitors' credit, and they deserve a bit after turning up on the highveld mid-week thanks to Sanzaar's inability to put them on an earlier flight, they clawed their way back into the match, only for their error rate to mount and their chances head in the opposite direction.

The defeat is a cruel way for Blackadder's reign to end, but that is professional sport, as he acknowledged afterwards.

He has had a fair bit of bad luck during his eight-year reign as coach at the place where he won three titles in a row as captain. He got close in 2011, the year of the constant earthquakes, travel, and lost final to the Reds in Brisbane, and again in the notorious final of 2014 against the Waratahs in Sydney following which referee Joubert apologised for awarding the late penalty against Richie McCaw which gifted the home side the win, and some of that continued in the opening minutes in Johannesburg against a side clearly fresher than his.

"They scored a try straight off the bat and it was a soft one too," Blackadder told Newstalk ZB's Tony Veitch. "The first penalty of the game was a yellow which is very dubious and then it looked like there was a bit of a knock-on as well [before the Lions' second try], the guy lost the ball, and suddenly we're playing catch-up, and in the catch-up we were putting ourselves under a lot of pressure, we were trying to force it too early rather than building pressure.

"We got to within eight points and we looked like we were ripping them apart but then we tried to force an offload when it really wasn't on. We probably blew two tries just through [a lack of] draw and pass. We were our own worst enemy. We have to put our hands up and say that, but the Lions were the better team tonight."

Many will feel that the Crusaders, minus Richie McCaw, Colin Slade and Dan Carter, and with 22-year-old first-five Richie Mo'unga directing the team at No10, overachieved at making the playoffs after missing out last season. However, their drop off in performance after the June break was significant.

Before it they were top of the New Zealand conference; after it they dropped down the table and out of the competition in the first knockout match.

"We never quite managed to claw back that momentum and confidence that we had before the break," Blackadder said.

He and fellow coaches Tabai Matson and Dave Hewett will all move on to make way for new coach Scott Robertson and his team, with Blackadder saying an announcement on his future could be made this week. It's possible he and Matson could remain as a coaching duo - with Bath in England and the Reds in Brisbane both in the market.

"It's in great shape," Blackadder said of the franchise he is leaving. "We've developed a lot of young guys. I think we had 14 young guys come through this year... a lot of this team will be coming back and will be better for the experiences."

- NZ Herald

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