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Crusaders put 50 points on Waratahs to move into Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final spot

By Alex McLeod

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The Crusaders have scored eight tries to fight off a committed Waratahs side in Wollongong on Saturday to keep themselves in the hunt for the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title.

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Pre-match predictions of a Crusaders romp looked like they were going to be realised when they opened the scoring in typically clinical fashion as Sevu Reece and Will Jordan combined to pierce the Waratahs’ defence and send Mitchell Drummond in after nine minutes.

However, the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions were left frustrated by the Super Rugby AU wooden-spooners, who defended stoutly and forced a few uncharacteristic errors out of the visitors.

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Young playmaker Will Harrison even managed to bag a three-pointers, and even with a man down due to Jack Whetton’s yellow card as a result of foul play, the Waratahs somehow managed to keep the deficit to just one point up until the half hour mark.

That was until the Crusaders pounced on an aimless Waratahs kick, as Leicester Fainga’anuku stormed down the left-hand flank, drawing in three defenders before firing an audacious offload to the supporting Manasa Mataele.

The left wing then flung a terrific offload of his own into the mitts of Codie Taylor, who crashed on over to finish off a spectacular try.

Richie Mo’unga missed the sideline conversion, but it didn’t matter as Reece strolled on through to score an easy try in what was a bitter blow for the Waratahs just minutes before half-time.

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A third penalty goal from Harrison cut the deficit to 10 points, but weak defence from the Waratahs and scintillating, high-tempo rugby by the Crusaders immediately put the New South Welshmen on the back foot, and before long, Dallas McLeod went over for the away side’s fourth try.

Mo’unga’s conversion gave the Crusaders a 26-9 lead at half-time, and the Waratahs’ chances of an unlikely victory, which looked so promising in the opening 30 minutes, seemed far out of reach only 10 minutes later.

Those odds seemed even longer when Mo’unga inspired Scott Barrett’s try with a line break inside the opening minutes of the second stanza, but the Waratahs showed they weren’t over and out in the ensuing 14 minutes.

A quick fire pair of tries in the 53rd and 55th minutes sandwiched a yellow card dished out to Crusaders prop Oli Jager, with the first coming when Jack Maddocks scored from a scrappy scrum five metres from the opposition tryline.

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The second came in exhilarating fashion as a slick backline move made the Waratahs look like the team they were playing against thanks to some swift distribution and good line-running.

All of that culminated in a blockbusting try scored by the explosive Izaia Perese, who fended off Reece and then ploughed over the top of Fainga’anuku to bring the Waratahs to within 10 points again.

That’s as close as they got, though, as the Fainga’anuku responded just three minutes later to stretch out and score to make amends for his defensive blunder against Perese.

Further tries to Jordan and reserve halfback Bryn Hall in the final quarter of the match were enough to crack the half century mark and close the game out for the Crusaders.

The New Zealanders were guilty of a sloppy finish, though, as late yellow cards to David Havili and Nathan Vella for cynical play enabled Alex Newsome to fly over in the corner, but it was too little too late for the Waratahs, who remain winless this year.

Despite their ongoing search for a first-up win, the Sydney-based side can take positives out of the encounter, with their attack impressing throughout the fixture, but defensive work will be required if they are to join the winners circle in 2021.

The Crusaders, meanwhile, have rocketed into second place on the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman table, but could yet be overtaken by the Blues, Chiefs and Highlanders this weekend.

Crusaders 54 (Tries to Mitchell Drummond, Codie Taylor, Sevu Reece, Dallas McLeod, Scott Barrett, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Bryn Hall and Will Jordan; 7 conversions to Richie Mo’unga; yellow cards to Oli Jager, David Havili and Nathan Vella)

Waratahs 28 (Tries to Jack Maddocks, Izaia Perese and Alex Newsome; 2 conversions and 3 penalties to Will Harrison; yellow card to Jack Whetton)

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Crusaders put 50 points on Waratahs to move into Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final spot

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