Captain Richie McCaw says there is still plenty of time for the Crusaders to clinch a Super Rugby playoffs place despite a disappointing defeat in Bloemfontein today.
McCaw conceded the Crusaders made too many mistakes in their 33-20 loss to the Cheetahs, who repeated their 2009 vanquishing of the seven-time champions at their Vodacom Park fortress.
"We didn't build any pressure,'' McCaw lamented. "They put pressure on us and we made too many mistakes.''
He refused to use the energy-sapping win over the Stormers in Cape Town as an excuse for the Crusaders' below-par performance because they had prepared well during the week. Nor would he blame unfamiliar combinations, saying it was no reason "for losing the ball or getting turned over''.
McCaw said the "tries we scored'' (to wing Zac Guildford and first five-eighth Dan Carter) "showed what we could do once we got down the right end of the field and held the ball.''
But he acknowledged the Cheetahs' tenacious defence and said the "bounce of the ball went their way, as it often does up here''. "But they make their own luck and they put pressure on us and we struggled to get quick, clean ball.''
The Crusaders had an opportunity to go top of the New Zealand conference on points differential had they secured a bonus point win in Bloemfontein. But they still trail the Blues - who lost to the Reds in Brisbane on Friday - by five points.
But McCaw said there were still five games to go and the Crusaders "can't drop our heads''. "We've got to go home and recover and get ready for the Chiefs next week.
"These competitions are often won on what you do in the last few weeks.''
Both McCaw, who was making his return from concussion, and Carter were pleased to get through the game unscathed.
Carter came off after 50 minutes, as planned, in his first match for six weeks after a hamstring injury. He said his leg "felt fine'' after the match though he was disappointed to lose. He hoped he would be able to play more minutes against the Chiefs but neither he or the Crusaders coaching staff wanted to risk him playing a full game today.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder hopes second five eighth Sonny Bill Williams will be available for the Chiefs match in Napier after a "knock to the knee'' in Bloemfontein.
He said Williams was "too sore'' to go out for the second half. "But we don't think it was anything major, just deep bruising. Hopefully, he'll be OK,'' said Blackadder, who shared McCaw's disappointment at an "un-Crusaders-like'' defeat but was pleased there were no major injuries after losing four backs earlier in the tour.
Blackadder rated fullback Tom Marshall - in his first Super Rugby start - the Crusaders' best player on a night where the team struggled collectively, "although it wasn't through any lack of effort.''