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Unbeaten Crusaders demand better start

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/03/2017

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has had enough of the Houdini acts.

Four wins from four represents a fine start to the Super Rugby season but he isn't in the mood for his team to cede another big lead when they host the Western Force on Friday.

Robertson's men have conjured great escapes against the Highlanders, Reds and Blues, where they came from 21, 17 and 19 points down respectively to secure victory each time.

Those comebacks are a few points adrift of their franchise record 25-point rebound to beat South Africa's Cats in 1999. They trailed 6-31 before prevailing 58-38 in Nelson.

Robertson said eclipsing that mark would be remarkable but he is hoping his team won't fall into such a deep hole.

"We'd be happy to do that (break the record) but it's not planned," Robertson said.

"We've got to be tactically smarter and we've got to execute (early).

"We had a great 20 minutes at the start against the Highlanders and couldn't finish, then the Reds game we seemed to play behind the whole time and the Blues had some brilliant individual efforts so we were chasing from there."

Despite his demands, Robertson was encouraged by the character shown by his players when the heat goes on.

"We've done a lot of work on making sure we stay calm under pressure and on how we react to different situations.

"I'm stoked with our leadership group and the way they're making decisions on the field and using them in a way to make changes tactically."

Matt Todd returns from a calf injury on the openside flank and is primed for a big performance fresh off signing a one-year contract extension with the Crusaders and New Zealand Rugby.

Todd said he had trained well after two frustrating weeks on the sideline. He was buoyed by his decision to remain at home.

"There were options to go overseas but I am enjoying footy in New Zealand and one year was best for me and my family at this stage."

Another to make his starting return is centre Tim Bateman, who is looking forward to linking up with Ryan Crotty in a powerful midfield combination.

Bateman, who is back from three seasons in Japan, says Crotty's decision-making and communication were behind his rise to Test status in recent seasons.

"It's awesome to see how far he has come in the short time that I have been away from the area," Bateman said.

"He's grown hugely in his game. There are a lot of things I am picking up from him."

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