(Reuters) - Otago Highlanders coach Tony Brown accused the Canterbury Crusaders of pushing "the letter of the law" after his team lost to the reigning champions in Friday's Super Rugby Aotearoa opener.
The Highlanders lost their seventh straight match against their South Island neighbours despite dominating territory and possession for much of the contest at Otago Stadium.
Brown said it was "sad" that a team so heavily penalised -- the Crusaders conceded 15 penalties and were shown two yellow cards -- was still able to emerge victorious from a tight contest.
"If you look at tonight's game that's what's sad about rugby at the minute," Brown told local media after the 26-13 defeat.
"We had 60% possession, 60% territory ... We only concede eight penalties and they're conceding 19 (sic) penalties and numerous penalty advantages against them and then two yellow cards and they still win. That's the sad thing about footy."
The Crusaders, whose players were shown a string of yellow cards in their final pre-season match, were particularly effective at shutting down the home side's rolling maul close to the try line.
"That's the battle against a quality team; they are not going to give you anything," Brown added.
"They are going to shut down all the space and push the letter of the law.
"Referees are doing their job but I know that they've had five yellow cards in two games, so something isn't working."
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said he was proud of the way his team defended and said the penalties were the result of players getting "half a foot" in front of the offside line in a pressure situation.
"It's not that we're cynical; it's just a judgment error about how deep you are," he told reporters.
"When you are on defence and under pressure, the referee can pick up a lot of things, but there's no intent behind it."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)