The Waratahs have recorded the upset of the tournament so far, defeating the reigning champions the Crusaders 20-12 at a wet contest at the SCG. The Waratahs ended the 19 games, 370-day unbeaten streak of the Crusaders in a sloppy encounter that saw more errors than points. In the end, it was the Waratahs that were slightly better on the night, finding success through an aerial assault that saw Israel Folau dominate the contested high ball, having a hand in two Waratah tries to put them at the top of the Australian Conference momentarily.
The Waratahs got off to the dream start, with Jed Holloway muscling his way through some turnstile defence from Whetu Douglas to cross under the post to put the Waratahs up 7-0 after 5 minutes.
Their lead was extended out to 12-0 after a midfield bomb from Foley was superbly taken by Israel Folau, breaking two tackles before offloading to Cam Clark who burst away from the chasing defenders to cross in the corner.
The Crusaders were uncharacteristically sloppy to start this game off, gifting easy penalties along with losing their lineout twice within the first 20 minutes.
This was summed up when they attacked the Waratah line and a poor pass from Brett Cameron that allowed Alex Newsome to race away and the subsequent chip and chase attempt from Bernard Foley came up just short of a try when he couldn’t regather the ball right on the goal line.
The Crusaders would find some shape in attack from a lineout on the 22, with a pass that Tom Brady would be proud of from Codie Taylor putting George Bridge in a gaping hole to reduce the margin back to 5 points.
The Waratahs seemed to gain inspiration from their landlord in the Sydney Swans in this half, launching the ball away whenever they seem to get it regardless of their field position, twice in this half choosing to grubber the ball right back to the Crusaders inside the 22.
They would extend their lead with the boot when excellent counter-rucking by Adam Ashley-Cooper earned the side a penalty, which Bernard Foley slotted from 30 metres out at the end of the half to leave the score 15-7 to the Waratahs at half-time.
The rain throughout the first half really seemed to affect the second half of this match, the ball was seemingly replaced with a bar of soup at the break, with both sides traded handling errors throughout the half.
The Crusaders looked to bring back the score to within a converted try at the 58th minute, however, Mitch Hunt pushed the penalty goal wide.
This seemed to sum up the performance by the Crusaders, who looked a shell of their usual polished self, seemingly drained by everything that has happened over the past week, along with the loss of Owen Franks shortly before kick off.
Outside of this chance, neither side seemed to threaten the other’s try line for the rest of the half, taking turns kicking for territory and then proceeding to knock on the ball, a move that will ‘surely’ bring the fans back to the game.
The game would finally open up when the barrage of bombs paid dividends for the Waratahs in the 74th minute, when Folau got the better of a cross-field contest on the goal line to plant the ball down to record the first score of this half, extending the score out to 20-7 after Foley missed the sideline conversion.
The Crusaders would cross with the last play of the game for a consolation try when Will Jordan was on the receiving end of a rare period of clean hands by their backs to bring the final score back to 20-12 at full time.
The Turning Point
After the converted penalty kick from Bernard Foley, the Waratahs immediately dropped the ball off the kickoff, giving the Crusaders prime positioning to strick back right on half time. But the Waratahs hung tough in defence, holding their attack off and causing the error, which ended up killing off any momentum that the Crusaders had, which was crucial in securing the win.
The GAGR MOTM
With a kick-heavy attack, the only way that the Waratahs were going to dominate was if Israel Folau showed up, which he absolutely did. He was excellent in this victory, setting up the first try after regathering the midfield bomb and handing off to Clark, before securing the win with a try of his own after an excellent cross kick from Foley
The Wallaby contingency really stood up for the Waratahs today, especially led by Folau and the kicking game of Foley. The forwards were especially good, not losing a scrum or lineout with Dempsey and Hooper leading from the front alongside Hanigan who continues to prove that he deserves to be in consideration for the Gold jersey on merit, rather than simply being the coach’s favourite, which was the perception of many heading into the year.
Tries: Holloway (4′), Clark (11′), Folau (74′)
Cons: Foley 1/3 (4′)
Penalties: Foley 1/1 (39′)
Tries: Bridge (29′), Jordan (80′)
Cons: Cameron 1/1 (29′), Hunt 0/1
Penalties: Hunt 0/1