Super Rugby Pacific: Crusaders stunned by Waratahs
The Waratahs beat the Crusaders 24-21 in Super Rugby Pacific. Video / Sky Sport
Waratahs 24Crusaders 21
It will only exacerbate the Crusaders' pain but their shock loss to the Waratahs tonight should prove one of the most popular results of the season.
It was high on drama, if low on quality, and provided Super Rugby Pacific with the shot of credibility these transtasman fixtures desperately required.
A shocking first half condemned the Crusaders to their first defeat by an Australian side in more than three years, with the Waratahs barely holding on against 13 men at Leichardt Oval in Sydney.
Facing a 17-0 halftime deficit, the Crusaders mounted a predictable second-half revival, but a red card for Hamish Dalzell and a yellow moments later for Pablo Matera left the undermanned visitors unable to complete the turnaround.
The Waratahs were the last Australian side to vanquish the five-time defending champions, in March 2019, but there was little suggesting a repeat could be on the cards.
Last year the Crusaders cruised to a 54-28 victory as the Waratahs finished bottom of Super Rugby Transtasman, and last week the Chiefs also put up 50 points on the Sydney side.
The Crusaders lost Joe Moody to injury and rested four more of their sizeable All Blacks contingent, but they still should have boasted enough quality to earn a win that would have lifted them to second.
Instead, coach Scott Robertson's men began by digging themselves a huge hole, producing their worst half of the season and fortunate to head to the sheds trailing only 17-0.
The Waratahs, who have made encouraging strides this season, were good value for the lead, playing with intensity and quality. But the Crusaders were equally to blame for their struggles, playing as atypical a 40 minutes as could be expected.Related articles
They were sloppy in possession and regularly gave the ball back to their buoyed opponents. Their lineout was poor, with Codie Taylor repeatedly erring with his throws. And they were porous in defence, starting in the second minute when Dylan Pietsch scythed through a huge hole.
The Waratahs were soon over again only to be held up, but the Crusaders' reprieve didn't last long. Giving away a couple of penalties to put themselves under pressure, they watched as the Waratahs kicked for the corner and found immediate reward, with Mark Nawaqanitawase applying another simple finish.
The Crusaders should have been stunned into action, and they did begin to gain better field position courtesy of a scrum winning penalties, but errors continued to undo any progress.
Going back to basics was always a likely strategy for the Crusaders to climb back into the match, and that's how they reaped their first points in the second spell.
A fast-moving maul proved too difficult for the Waratahs to defend, with Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco deemed to have illegally halted the move, being sent to the sin bin while the Crusaders were awarded a penalty try.
Suddenly it was the Waratahs who were hindering their chances with poor discipline as a succession of penalties inside their own 22 saw their defence begin to tire.
They would have been forgiven for looking at the clocks when Sione Havili Talitui wriggled over following another wobbly lineout, left with 20 minutes to maintain their three-point edge.
The hosts' task was helped in the 67th minute when Dalzell was sent off for making contact to Michael Hooper's head, moments after escaping a TMO check for a similar incident. And when Matera saw yellow for collapsing a maul to cede a penalty try, the Crusaders' chances appeared over.
Fletcher Newell's try provided the visitors with one last chance but outstanding Canterbury-born flanker Charlie Gamble won a breakdown penalty for the Waratahs to win the match.
Waratahs 24 (Dylan Pietsch, Mark Nawaqanitawase tries, penalty try; Tane Edmed 2 cons, pen)Crusaders 21 (Penalty try, Sione Havili Talitui, Fletcher Newell tries; Fergus Burke con, Simon Hickey con)Halftime: 17-0