Israel Folau carves up the Crusaders’ defence. Photo: Kai SchwoererChristchurch: The NSW Waratahs have plummeted back to reality with the biggest loss of their season and failed to break a 12-year drought against the Crusaders away from home, going down by 19 points in difficult conditions.
Nanjing Night Net

Few pundits expected NSW to come away from the South Island with anything to show for themselves against the ladder-topping Crusaders, but the Waratahs will rue a missed opportunity to extend their lead on the Australian conference by spoiling a four-game winning streak.

It was the Crusaders’ fifth straight win against Australian opposition – a sobering reminder of the gulf in standard and sheer potency of New Zealand teams this year.

“It was always going to be difficult, coming to Christchurch to try and win,” Gibson said. “For us we’re all about the Aussie conference right now. We’re still a point above the Brumbies heading into next weekend, so we know for us that we need to win at home. We’ve been given several lessons and we’ll have to learn from that quickly and move on.”

An Israel Folau try in the 31st minute was a rare highlight for Gibson’s men who were far from outclassed but could not salvage a 22-5 deficit inflicted in the first half as a result of sloppy defence.

“[We were] Going out in the second half with a lot of work to do,” said captain Michael Hooper. “Happy with the shots we fired just not happy with the finish. Really tough night.”

However, former All Blacks and Crusaders winger Zac Guildford scored a try with his first touch in his comeback game from a stint in the Shute Shield with West Harbour.

Cold and wet Christchurch conditions greeted the Waratahs, meaning their forwards were in for a war of attrition against a Crusaders pack boasting 275 All Blacks caps. It was an area in which the Waratahs held their own despite it being a prime focus in the lead-up.

There was a surprising amount of backline ball movement despite the incessant rain, but a slippery ball made it difficult for playmakers on both sides to be as crisp as usual.

David Horwitz was not overawed by the task of filling Kurtley Beale’s shoes at No.12. His passing and game management – be it at the back or in the frontline – was a positive sign for the future.

He brought what he’s good at tonight, his D is great, got som good kicks down. It’s games like this that get young players lot of experience. Daryl Gibson is usually more than happy to speak to the media in the lead-up to the game, but for the first time the former Crusaders assistant coach and centre wanted to keep to himself – a sign he was feeling the heat.

And so the Waratahs drought against the Crusaders continues. They have not won in New Zealand since 2004, losing on the last seven occasions by an average of 10 points.

Three minutes was all it took for the Crusaders to begin their onslaught, with winger Johnny McNicholl the beneficiary on the right edge despite a valiant effort from Nick Phipps.

Israel Dagg then went in minutes later to set up a 12-point buffer and it could have been three tries in the first 13 minutes had Matt Todd not been offside in the lead-up to a try whereby Andrew Kellaway fluffed a high-bomb in what was a tough night for the young fullback.

And then the other Israel popped. Against what had been an impenetrable Crusaders line, Folau somehow sliced through before offloading to Horne.

The ball was knocked off a Crusaders hand onto Horne’s feet to which he picked up to give NSW a glimmer of hope after their dreadful start.

Other than that it was a first half of aerial ping pong with both sides deciding that going to the air would provide more headaches than not.

It was a style of play the Waratahs have not employed all season, making their life tough in front of a hostile crowd celebrating halfback Andy Ellis’s 150th game for the Crusaders.

The Waratahs scrum was passable, lineouts still susceptible, but they simply couldn’t match their clinical trans-Tasman rivals who continue to build a strong case for being title favourites.

Meanwhile, Jed Holloway’s luck just keeps getting worse – he left the field early in the second half with what appeared to be a recurrence of the shoulder injury that has kept him out of action the last few weeks.

“We always knew it was a risk and until we’ve had a proper assessment, at the moment it looks like he may have injured that,” Gibson said.

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