By RICHARD KNOWLER, The Press
The wounded Crusaders beast may be just a few losses away being tossed into the Super 14 dead hole but Todd Blackadder says the coaching staff are holding their nerve.
After witnessing the Crusaders' humbling 6-0 defeat to the Highlanders at Carisbrook on Saturday night - their third defeat in as many rounds - and losing skipper Richie McCaw for up to six weeks with a strained medial ligament in his right knee, Blackadder maintains the new coaching combination of himself, Mark Hammett and Daryl Gibson are in no mood to go opening a vein.
"We're good. We understand exactly where we are and what we need to do," Blackadder maintained. "We have every confidence we are doing the right thing and have just got to keep persevering and working hard. We are absolutely no where near panic stations and we are not lacking confidence."
Just four rounds have gone but the defending champions' season is already in grave danger of being a write-off unless the Crusaders rediscover the winning ways that has earned them seven Super titles.
This has been anything but a fairytale return to the great franchise that Blackadder helped build as a player, with injuries and just one win on his books threatening to turn it into a nightmare.
McCaw joined the list of injured during the opening half of the Dunedin match after Highlanders lock Hayden Triggs crashed into his right leg at a ruck and right wing Jared Payne could be out for two to four weeks with a high ankle sprain.
Add to this the news that centre Casey Laulala may be out for another month with his shoulder injury and there is still no certainty fullback Leon MacDonald will recover in time from his shoulder problems to play against the Western Force at AMI Stadium on Saturday night.
Anyone that missed seeing the fixture at Carisbrook, the lowest scoring match in Super history, should count themselves blessed. It was an error-ridden display bulging with knock-ons, forward passes, poor kicking and average decision-making.
In the end it was the Highlanders' first five-eighth Daniel Bowden that decided the result with two penalties, while the Crusaders' Colin Slade missed his only attempt.
The Crusaders set pieces were untidy, halfback Andy Ellis at times had to hoover up poor lineout ball, tighthead prop Ben Franks had a torrid night against Chris King in the scrums, the inexperienced backs lacked leadership and Laulala's strong running to get them over the advantage line was sorely missed.
With the Highlanders forwards, led by loosies Adam Thomson and Alando Soakai who clocked up 54 tackles between them, successfully slowing the ball down, the Crusaders were often able to get any momentum and when replacement flanker George Whitelock was yellow carded in the 72nd minute, the Highlanders grew another leg as they realised the game was theirs for the taking.
Blackadder acknowledged the decision-making was not flash but said he was pleased his men were more confrontational at the breakdown.
"There is light, there is a lot of light. If you look at the game we could have taken it if we were a little more clinical around our decisions. It's not far away."
Whether he makes changes to the side to face the Force will depend on whether MacDonald is fit. Blackadder is also searching for another wing, possibly from outside the region, with Payne joining Kade Poki and Sean Maitland on the injured list.
"We have got the right personnel, we can't do anything about that. We just have to have a good look at whether we shake it up a little bit."