Depleted Crusaders refuse to raid infirmary
A patched-up Crusaders slipped to third in the New Zealand conference, raising early questions about their chances of a successful title defence, when beaten 17-25 by the Highlanders on Saturday, a week after a 19-29 loss to the Hurricanes.
The most successful franchise in Super Rugby history have been hamstrung by an alarming injury toll which has put seven All Blacks out of action including team captain Samuel Whitelock and All Blacks skipper Kieran Read along with backline general Ryan Crotty.
But assistant coach Brad Mooar ruled out Sunday any attempt to pressure players to make an early return.
Read, Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Israel Dagg are not expected back until mid-April, Whitelock and Crotty will return when concussion symptoms clear and Richie Mo'unga is unlikely to have recovered from his broken jaw for another month.
"The answer is a clear 'no'," Mooar said when asked if some players could return ahead of schedule.
"When they are ready, then we will think about picking them. If a player is injured and unable to play, then that is a medical scenario and we will totally respect it."
Despite the makeshift look of the side, the Crusaders' coaches claimed they were disappointed with the result but not the performance against the Highlanders.
"If you had asked me four weeks ago if I would put this team out, I would have thought 'wow, really?'" head coach Scott Robertson said.
"I thought we generally had chances to win. We just didn't take our key moments. The scrum went well, the line-out was good for the majority of it."
The unbeaten Highlanders lead the New Zealand conference three points clear of the Hurricanes who pip the Crusaders on points differential.
The last time the eight-times champion Crusaders lost two matches in a row was when beaten by the Highlanders and Chiefs in April 2015.