Crusaders coach questions depth in Australian rugby
CRUSADERS coach Scott Robertson says a lack of depth in Australian teams is being exposed entering the second half of another lopsided Super Rugby competition.
The defending champions face the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday night and will start heavy favourites, on a five-match winning tear and having regained the services of key playmaker Richie Mo'unga.
Melbourne by contrast has lost its past four games and faces the reality of having conceded a total of 126 points in its past two matches against the Crusaders.
After opening the season with four rollicking wins, the Rebels have slumped, mirroring the fortunes of Australian sides who promised plenty in the opening weeks.
Asked if their trans-Tasman rivals lacked comparative depth, Robertson was succinct: "Yes. There's a headline for you mate."
Pushed further, he said there was a reason four Kiwi teams were nestled in the top five on the overall standings.
"The depth of squad is always tested and that's the most critical thing in Super Rugby," he said.
"If you've got the ability to go three or four deep in a position and still find ways to win, you're a chance.
"The next two to three weeks, there's some games where we'll see if there's still a gulf or if it's been bridged by the Australians.
"I know they're hungry and we need Aussie rugby to be really strong."
Ironically, a major reason the Force was axed last year was to boost the depth of the other four Australian teams, and the Rebels were major beneficiaries of ex-Force players.
Robertson unveiled six starting changes to his competition-leading team, which beat the Brumbies 21-8 in Canberra last week.
The most notable is the return of Mo'unga. He suffered multiple fractures to his jaw in round two against the Stormers and needed four plates to aid his recovery.
After being unable to eat solid food for a week, Mo'unga has regained the 5kg body weight he lost and is ready to mount a bid for All Blacks squad selection to face France in June.
The 23-year-old won't let his mind wander to what would be a likely Test back-up role behind Beauden Barrett.
"It's about playing some good footy and off the back, hopefully some rewards come," he said.
CRUSADERS: David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Pete Samu, Sam Whitelock (c), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Andrew Makalio, Wyatt Crockett
Reserves: Codie Taylor, Harry Allan, Mike Alaalatoa, Mitchell Dunshea, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Bryn Hall, Mitchell Hunt, Manasa Mataele