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New Crusaders boss' brutal admission after horror start

SPOTLIGHT: Crusaders head coach Rob Penney compared his new team to a misfiring engine as the defending champions look to snap their horror start to the Super Rugby Pacific season.

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After winning the last seven titles in a row, the Crusaders have endured four straight defeats to begin the campaign – their worst run since the competition started in 1996.

They sit second from last in the table and face a tough away game at the Blues on Saturday.

The underpressure Penney used the analogy of a spluttering vehicle. “We’re probably an eight-cylinder motor running on six cylinders and the choke is out,” he told reporters.

It has been a terrible start for Penney, who replaced Scott Robertson when he left last year to coach the All Blacks.

The Crusaders are struggling to match the lofty standards set during the Robertson era after losing a wealth of experience.

Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga and veteran lock Sam Whitelock are now playing in Japan and France respectively.

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Injury has also hit hard. Captain Scott Barrett is sidelined with a fractured finger. Fellow All Blacks forwards Tamaiti Williams (hamstring) and Ethan Blackadder (calf) are also injured.

Star back Will Jordan is out for the season after shoulder surgery. Former British & Irish Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny tore a chest muscle in a pre-season game.

Veteran All Blacks prop Owen Franks is suspended for the next two matches for foul play.

Penney admits his winless team are not where he wants them to be.

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“Absolutely not. For the bounce of the ball or a couple of decisions and a bit more game management on our behalf, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

“We’re learning and growing together. We feel we are getting close.”

All Blacks David Havili and Sevi Reece afterwards struggled to explain the latest defeat, a 10-14 home loss to table-leaders the Hurricanes.

Another tough game follows in Auckland this weekend with the Blues having lost just one of their four games.

The hosts are boosted by the return of their captain and All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu seven weeks after breaking his jaw.

“The mentality is don’t sit and feel sorry for yourself because no one else is,” Penney added.

“Of course people are hurting. We have good boys here, we aren’t looking back or looking for excuses.”

Penney insists the Crusaders have the talent to bounce back. “We are really pumped what this team is capable of when we get that rhythm and flow.”

Formers New Zealand Sevens flier Toby Arnold, 36, has come out of retirement to join the Crusaders for the rest of the season as cover for Halfpenny.

Penney will be especially keen to avoid a fifth straight defeat this weekend.

He was fired from his last Super Rugby job as head coach of the Waratahs after starting the 2021 season with a 5-0 losing record.

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