Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has admitted his side's game management left something to be desired after letting a vital bonus point slip through the side's grasp.
The Crusaders beat the Western Force 29-21 in Christchurch on Friday night, however a try to the Force inside the final minute of the game meant the Crusaders did not earn a bonus point for scoring three tries more than their opponent.
It took flawless execution on a cross-field kick from Force second five-eighth Kyle Godwin to put winger Jordan Olowofela away in an empty backfield, as Crusaders fullback Will Jordan had just made a tackle and was at the breakdown.
However, the opportunity was perfectly presented to the Force as, rather than grind out the final 30 seconds of the match, the Crusaders looked to add to their score in order to improve their points differential in the penultimate round of the season.
Deep inside the Force 22m, substitute hooker Andrew Ready got over the ball after a Jordan run, claiming the turnover and igniting the counter attack, which ended a few phases later with an Olowofela try.
"We talked through all the scenarios if we were up and what that would look like. Five points is five points, and 15 up, you could walk out after a dogged performance against the Force, but we were obviously still trying to score and they got a great turnover," Robertson said in reflection of the game.
"Obviously they were staying in the fight, so we could've been better with our game management."
Losing the bonus point saw their quest for the title take another hit, though the blow was lessened by the Blues also failing to get a bonus point in their match against the Reds.
Because of that result, the Crusaders remain one point behind the Blues on the table, though the Auckland club has a superior points differential.
Coming into the round trailing the Blues and the Hurricanes on the ladder, Robertson said only coming away with four points against the Force likely took his side's playoff hopes out of their control ahead of the final round of play.
"We'd have liked to have kept that in our hands, that's the disappointing thing – and the boys will be disappointed," Robertson said.
"We were here to do one thing – win and get the bonus [point]. We didn't. It wasn't our finest performance; we wanted to be really disciplined and we weren't in a lot of areas, couldn't build any pressure, and well done to the Force – they came here and put some effort in and showed what it takes to put us under pressure.
"We defended so doggedly for long periods of time, then that quick turnover and, bang, that was it. That could be the comp. It pretty quickly can change; it's a little bit out of our hands now, so we'll be watching."