Waratahs’ winning run comes to crashing halt against ruthless Crusaders

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The clinical Crusaders dealt the NSW Waratahs a reality check with a 42-18 Super Rugby Pacific drubbing in Christchurch.

Waratahs coach Darren Coleman said pre-game he couldn’t wait to see his in-form side – riding a four-match winning streak – testing themselves against the defending champions on Saturday.

He soon learnt they have a lot of ground to make up before the looming finals.

Even with a front-row crisis, and needing to fire an SOS to 39-year-old John Afoa in France, the Crusaders were a class above. The 11-time Super Rugby champions piled on six tries to three in a bonus-point blowout at Orangetheory Stadium.

Compounding the Waratahs’ woes was a knee injury to Wallabies World Cup hopeful Max Jorgensen, with the teenage fullback forced off after 10 minutes.

The match was as good as over at half-time, with the Crusaders enjoying a 28-8 lead despite being on the back foot early.

Richie Mo’unga skips away from the Waratahs.Credit: Getty

The heavy defeat means the Waratahs are assured of finishing the regular season in sixth spot, and Coleman and company will be sweating on the Crusaders locking up the second position they presently occupy.

If they do, the Tahs face the grim prospect of returning to Christchurch, where they haven’t won since 2004, in two weeks to face the Crusaders again in the sudden-death quarter-finals.

The Crusaders can secure second with a final-round victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington next Saturday. The Waratahs host Moana Pasifika later that night.

Afoa only arrived in New Zealand on Thursday afternoon but the 38-Test former All Black didn’t look out of place making the transition from the French second division back to Super Rugby for the first time in almost 5000 days, even being held up over the try line at one point.

Fergus Burke scores a try.Credit: Getty

“It’s been a whirlwind couple of days. It’s been amazing,” Afoa said after his impressive, improbable 48-minute cameo.

There was no sign of the one-way traffic early when the Waratahs were dominating territory and field position so much that referee James Coleman had to caution Crusaders captain Codie Taylor for the home team conceding four penalties in the opening seven minutes.

He wasn’t kidding, with Leicester Fainga’anuku shown a yellow card shortly after.

But a lone penalty goal to Ben Donaldson was scant reward for the Waratahs’ hot start as the Crusaders made the visitors pay.

With Jorgensen out of the defensive line being treated, the Crusaders took full advantage with David Havili crossing for the first try in the 10th minute.

The Waratahs briefly regained the lead through a reply to skipper Jake Gordon but a driving maul try to Taylor, and a brilliant counter-attacking strike finished off by halfback Mitchell Drummond, set the tone for the afternoon.

One positive for Coleman and company was the performance of barnstorming No.8 Langi Gleeson, who continues to draw comparisons with Wallabies great Toutai Kefu and added to his highlights reel with a beautiful offload for a second-half try to winger Dylan Pietsch.

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