The Waratahs scored a 32-22 bonus-point win over the Crusaders to move to the top of the Australian conference. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Waratahs were the more physical of the two teams in this contest, and made the most of their scoring chances. They are now in a position to win the Australian conference and book a home semi-final.
Following this defeat, the Crusaders are unlikely to qualify for the play-offs. The last time they failed to progress to the knockout round was in 2001. They will lament their inconsistencies over the course of the 2015 season, and indeed, over the course of this particular game.
The Crusaders started well, but struggled to maintain their advantage as the game progressed. They had a great opportunity to put the Waratahs away when the game was 18 minutes old. Hooker Silatolu Latu was yellow-carded for dangerous play, and TV replays suggested that Will Skelton should also have been sin-binned for his part in the offence.
It was here where the visitors should have used their numerical advantage to pile on the points. Instead, they allowed the short-handed Waratahs to strike back. The hosts went to the break with a commanding 17-8 lead.
The Waratahs added eight points to their score after half-time through a Bernard Foley penalty and a Taqele Naiyaravoro try. The big Fijian scored two on the night, and was a threat whenever he touched the ball.
The Crusaders proceeded to hit back with two converted tries. With 15 minutes remaining, they were in sight of a famous comeback win that would keep their play-off dreams alive.
However, the Crusaders sustained a big blow when Richie McCaw was yellow-carded for cynical play in the 70th minute. The visitors managed to live with the Waratahs for seven more minutes before Foley snatched the game-clinching try.
That score marked the Waratahs' fourth try of the evening, and thus earned them the bonus point. It also ensured that the Crusaders failed to claim the consolatory bonus point for finishing within seven of the victors.
Waratahs – Tries: Taqele Naiyaravoro (2), Rob Horne, Bernard Foley. Conversions: Foley (3). Penalties: Foley (2).
Crusaders – Tries: Nemani Nadolo, Richie McCaw, Matt Todd. Conversions: Dan Carter (2). Penalty: Carter.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Silatolu Latu, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Patrick McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Israel Dagg, 23 Jone Macilai.
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images