The NSW Waratahs have stunned the competition with a 24-21 win over the Crusaders in front of a raucous crowd at Leichhardt Oval.
The win at Leichhardt ended an 11-match losing streak against New Zealand opposition and was the first win for the Waratahs against kiwi opponents since 2019 which was coincidently against the Crusaders at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
On a beautiful night in the inner west, fans were still streaming through the gates by the time the Waratahs raced out of the blocks with a 14-0 lead.
Tane Edmed, one of the Waratahs’ best on the night, got the home side on the front foot early with a strong carry off a 22m attacking scrum before Jake Gordon hit Dylan Pietsch running a hard unders line to burst through two defenders to score the opening try of the match in just the second minute of the game.
Shortly after the Waratahs turned down a certain three points from a penalty in the Crusaders’ half, instead kicking for the corner and going for a try.
The Waratahs were rewarded when Izaia Perese set up Mark Nawaqanitawase, drawing in three defenders and delivering a trademark offload for his winger to dot down in the corner.
Tane Edmed added the finishing touches from the sideline conversion for the 14-0 lead.
The Crusaders began to gain possession and territory in the game, but the Waratahs’ impressive defense held firm and didn’t concede a point in the opening 40 minutes for the first time this season.
Tane Edmed rounded the almost faultless half of rugby from the Waratahs with a late penalty giving the hosts a 17-0 lead at the break.
The Crusaders came out strongly and closed the gap to just three points with two tries early in the second half.
Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco was ruled to have illegally stopped a rolling maul from the side and was yellow carded and a penalty try was awarded to the Crusaders before Sione Havili Talitui hit and spun his way over for the Crusaders’ second try of the night.
The match finished with plenty of drama when the Crusaders found themselves down to 13 men with Hamish Dalzell red-carded for a head-high collision with Michael Hooper and Pablo Matera was yellow carded for illegally bringing down an attacking rolling maul.
The Waratahs got a penalty try off the maul infringement, but the two-score lead didn’t last long as Fletcher Newell scored for the Crusaders in the 74th minute to set up the grandstand finish.
The men in sky blue managed to close the game out and ensure finals fixtures are well within the side’s sights.
Waratahs Head Coach Darren Coleman was elated with his teams’ efforts against one of the best sides in provincial rugby.
“I was fighting [tears] back,” Coleman said. “You just don’t know when those emotional victories are going to come. To knock off the top Kiwi team is awesome.
“It’s all a bit of a blur ... we were hanging on a bit there at the end. To hang on ... I’m happy. We’re having a crack and we’re a team worth following. We may not be perfect but we’ll keep fighting until the end.”
The Waratahs now turn their attention to the Moana Pasifika who they take on next Saturday at Mount Smart Stadium.
TRIES: Pietsch, Nawaqanitawase, Penalty Try
CONS: Edmed 2/2
PENS: Edmed 1/1
TRIES: Penalty Try, Havili Talitui, Newell
CONS: Burke 1/1, Hickey 1/1
WARATAHS (1-15): Angus Bell, Mahe Vailanu, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Jed Holloway, Hugh Sinclair, Charlie Gamble, Michael Hooper, Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Jake Gordon, Tane Edmed, Dylan Pietsch, Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Alex Newsome
RESERVES: Ed Craig, Tetera Faulkner, Archer Holz, Geoff Cridge, Will Harris, Jack Grant, Ben Donaldson, James Ramm
CRUSADERS (1-15): George Bower, Codie Taylor (c), Oli Jager, Dominic Gardiner, Sam Whitelock, Pablo Matera, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Bryn Hall, Fergus Burke, Leicester Fainga'anuku, David Havili, Jack Goodhue, Sevu Reece, Will Jordan
RESERVES: Ricky Jackson, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Hamish Dalzell, Sione Havili Talitui, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Simon Hickey, Dallas McLeod