In any other part of the world Scott Robertson would be well exceeding expectations. In Crusaders country, there are those who say he has not yet done enough. Such is the reality of living in a region steeped in unrivalled success.

Just ask Todd Blackadder, seven titles is a tough act to follow.

Rookie Super Rugby coaches are usually afforded a grace period. Not here, though.

None of this is a surprise to Robertson. He was well aware of pressures attached to this gig.


"For me coming in and going 14-1... being an ex-Crusader and coaching Canterbury and having successful seasons I suppose you get used it," Robertson, the 42-year-old former All Blacks loose forward, said. "That expectation is always there. I came in and had a great squad."

Indeed. The Crusaders always boast great squads stacked with All Blacks. Ten line up against the Highlanders in tomorrow night's quarterfinal in Christchurch.

This season, Robertson appears to have ingrained something different. Combine their reworked attacking brand to playing as a more cohesive unit with Robertson's infectious energy, and they look to be genuinely enjoying themselves.

"It's been so much fun this year. The integration, the connections... it's been a pleasure coming to work. We're all one team. That's something I've really driven and there's a really good feeling around the place."

Robertson and his management team have overseen 11 debutants this season, other than their inaugural year more than any in Crusaders history. The likes of Jack Goodhue, George Bridge, Mitchell Hunt and player of the year David Havili - far from big names back in February - have all been hugely influential behind a typically beastly pack.

"Those things really please me."

This year's character and culture was epitomised with three epic comebacks over the Highlanders, Blues and Reds early doors. That never-give-up trait also providing a stoic feature of successful teams from bygone eras.

And, yet, it will all mean nothing unless the Crusaders kick on from here. With the Highlanders en route, a team who twice pushed them within three points this season, and having lost to the British and Irish Lions and Hurricanes in their last two outings, there is certainly no danger of complacency.

"It's the last game that matters not the first."

The Crusaders are, after all, no strangers to hitting speed bumps at this time of year. Mostly that's due to their significant All Blacks contingent arriving back after being hammered during the June tests.

The brutal Lions series only amplified fatigue, with Robertson opting to spell Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and start captain Sam Whitelock from the bench last week. Ultimately, defeat in Wellington saw the Crusaders concede top spot to the Lions but Robertson insists he had no choice but to rotate.

"We couldn't actually have played them. From a player welfare perspective they were in a state where they couldn't go 12 games in a row. Coming into finals they've got to be physically and mentally able otherwise you just cook them.

"Balance was the biggest thing I looked at coming into the job and the transition out of the June series. It's not ideal. We'd love to have gone right through and played all the round-robin matches and have finished but it's not that way.

"We've got a number of All Blacks and a number are in our forward pack. There's probably some art in the skill of managing players. Would I change it? No. I thought we did extremely well until the 60th minute against the Hurricanes and then the game changed.

"Now it's their opportunity once they've got everything right to perform and take us one step further."

Collective discipline and accuracy from the back three will be focal points tonight. With Ryan Crotty back at second five-eighth, Havili has switched to fullback pushing Israel Dagg to the wing to counter expectations that the Highlanders will unleash an aerial assault.

But it was being on the wrong side of a 15-7 penalty count which cost the Crusaders last week. Get that right, and their forward pack could do the rest.

"The Lions game was a real learning for us and me personally. I should have gone to see the referee beforehand - I speak French. We've had feedback from that game that things could've been done better but we could have managed it better.

"We want to play to our strengths and that is our forwards and make sure we're technically right so that doesn't get taken away from us. I'm learning along the way and just want us to fulfill our potential."