Dejected: The Waratahs following their 29-10 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch. Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty ImagesCrusaders hand Waratahs a reality checkAs it happened: Crusaders v Waratahs
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Despite succumbing to their first defeat in more than a month, the Waratahs are remaining upbeat about their Christchurch mishap, saying it will serve as an vital learning curve heading into an equally dangerous clash against the Chiefs in Sydney.

Their 29-10 loss to the Crusaders, who extended their lead at the top of the Super Rugby ladder, began with an “inexcusable” opening 20 minutes, but it was the next hour of play that has given NSW hope that a blip in New Zealand won’t spell the end of their season.

“We’ve been given several lessons and we have to quickly learn from those and move on,” said coach Daryl Gibson.

Gibson has shouldered some of the blame by imparting a defensive mindset on his players for the opening quarter of the game.

Such a ploy was contrasted by the Crusaders’ expansive style despite the wet conditions that, according to Bernard Foley, “spooked” the Waratahs.

Captain Michael Hooper could have sprayed his men for their lazy start, but he would rather focus on the positives ahead of next Friday’s fixture against the Chiefs at Allianz Stadium.

“With the wet conditions we thought they would work in our favour but they [Crusaders] were clinical,” Hooper said. “It’s a great learning curve for us and a tough one at that. We can take a lot out of [the game], take a lot out of good attack against a solid team.”

The attack Hooper speaks of centres around Israel Folau, who set up a try to Rob Horne even though he was marked heavily and still managed to break tackles at will.

“I’m just trying to do my job for the team but there weren’t as many opportunities as we would have liked,” Folau said. “There’s some games that pan out like that and that’s the way it is, so we’ve got to learn to do a little bit better on the run.

“It was a great learning game for us and we’ll take that away and look forward to next week. Playing against good sides, the margin’s very little so you’ve got to get that right.”

The Waratahs can ill-afford to give up another start against the Chiefs, a team that has scored more points than any other team on average per game and knocked off the Crusaders in round one.

But NSW will take solace from Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder’s comments that the Waratahs gave them more trouble than any other Australian team in attack.

“When they got good quality ball out of the back they ripped us apart a couple of times,” Blackadder said. “They’re a very good side, very dangerous.”

Playmakers Foley and new No.12 David Horwitz did their best in testing conditions, with the incumbent Wallabies No.10 backing his new partner in crime after a performance Gibson labelled “OK”.

“He’s a quality player,” said Foley of Horwitz. “We spoke about adapting to these conditions … it’s tough.

“Before this [June Test series] break we’ve got to finish strong and play a style that we want to play and get the win because that is what we’re chasing. For us we can take a lot away from this and we’ll be a lot better for it for next week.”

Winger Zac Guildford believes he was the most nervous Waratah on the field, but after scoring a try against his old club within three minutes of making his return to Super Rugby, albeit off the bench, he said he was feeling quite chuffed.

“I thought the crowd would have been a bit more hostile but they were actually really good to me,” Guildford said. “I just tried to give it my all. I want to be playing at this level and continuing to play some good rugby.”

And then there was discarded Waratahs-turned-Crusaders enforcer Mike Alaalatoa, who after coming on in the 58th minute has backed his former club to go very close to topping the Australian conference this year.

“It was definitely weird running out against them but I tried not to think about that too much and just do my job,” Alaalatoa said. “They’re still playing their same expansive style of rugby. When they get it right they’re really hard to stop. In terms of all the other teams, it’s probably the most pressure we’ve been put under in terms of defence.”

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