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Crusaders send clear message after dropping to last place

REACTION: The Crusaders insist they have the firepower to go from last place in the Super Rugby Pacific standings to challenge for another title but concede a vast improvement is needed.

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The seven-time defending champions slumped to the lowest rung on the ladder following an error-ridden 15-37 loss to the Western Force in Saturday’s clash of the competition’s two bottom-placed sides in Perth.

A headline on New Zealand’s biggest news website stuff.co.nz on Sunday described the perennially powerful Crusaders as hitting “Rock Bottom” after their seventh loss from eight matches.

It was also their first defeat against traditional strugglers the Force in more than a decade.

New coach Rob Penney’s team had raised hopes of a revival when they upset the Chiefs in late March to snap a season-opening five-match losing streak.

Subsequent losses in Australia to the Waratahs and Force have burst that bubble but captain Tom Christie maintained his team boast the quality to book a place in the finals.

With six rounds remaining in the regular season, the Crusaders sit six points outside the top eight who qualify for the knockout phase in the 12-team championship.

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“To be honest, I’m not interested in the ladder. If we start winning games, we’ll put ourselves in position,” Christie said.

“Yes it’s unique, no team’s probably done it from here, but I’ve still got full faith, full trust in my team that when we get it right, we’re a dangerous team.

“We’ve just got to get it right more often.”

With many of their previously-injured All Blacks back in action, the Crusaders dominated possession and territory but struggled to make a dent in the Force defensive line.

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The visitors were guilty of basic errors and ill-discipline, which allowed the Force to steadily pull clear and lodge their second win of the season.

“This one hurts. We made a lot of errors and, as we know, errors let any team into a game,” Christie said.

The skipper reserved praise for wing Sevu Reece, who became the Crusaders’ all-time leading try-scorer when he crossed for his 53rd career try, moving him ahead of former wing Caleb Ralph.

“Sevu’s rugby talent – he’s the best in the country, there’s no other way to put it, and potentially the best in the competition,” Christie said.

“He shows that week in-week out. The rest of us just need to get up to his level.”

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