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'I don't care, we beat them': Waratahs not buying talk that Crusaders were 'understrength' in loss

By Jack O'Rourke
(Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

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A packed house at a suburban Stadium in Sydney was the stage for a crucial win in the Waratahs season. Coming into the match the Waratahs were sitting in a precarious position in their run home to the finals. 

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The Crusaders arrived at Leichhardt Oval with a number of changes to their matchday squad. The most notable omission was playmaker Richie Mo’unga.

Waratahs coach Darren Coleman was full of praise for his team’s hard-nosed defence and fighting spirit that delivered the team a 24-21 victory.

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Coleman spoke about the Waratahs organization celebrating the wins when they happen after a few lean years for the men in sky blue. 

“You just don’t know when those emotional victories are going to come and that euphoria you get straight after the final whistle in a game. You’re not sure if you’re going to win or not and you’ve worked bloody hard to win. You should show a bit of emotion.

“Everyone was feeling it and everyone was happy. There’s a lot of emotion because we got some wins this year and we’ve won some credibility back, but to knock off a top team like the Crusaders it’s an awesome result. 

“Even in the warm-up watching the crowd roll in. I talk to these boys about it regularly, when you see people line up to come out and watch us, it’s a good feeling. When you can send them home happy, that’s a pretty powerful thing.”

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It was a fast start by the men from New South Wales, putting on two tries in the first 15 minutes to take a comfortable 17-0 lead at half-time. 

Coleman was quick to give credit to the opposition, refuting claims that the Crusaders ran out with an understrength team, pointing to the fact that the Crusaders depth allowed for squad rotation, with Jack Goodhue providing a straight swap for fellow All Black Braydon Ennor in the midfield. 

“When they can take Ennor and replace them with another All Black [it’s a strong team], obviously Richie Mo’unga was a big swinger. They have to give them a break at some time. It’s just the Crusaders system. 

“The naysayers will say we beat them a little bit understrength, but I don’t care, we beat them.

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“The boys are Tah tough. They care. If you care about what you’re doing, you will be able to do things you didn’t know you could do.

“It just goes to show how good they are. We were 15 on 13 and they were moving us around and we were just hanging on.”

In typical Crusaders fashion, they came storming back in the second half, slowly chipping away at the lead the Waratahs had built. First, through a penalty try off a rolling maul and then through an individual effort from Sione Havili Talitui to burst over the line. 

At that point in the match, it seemed the Crusaders had the momentum in their favour and were in a position to mount a famous comeback. The Waratahs kept the Crusaders at bay and in the 66th minute, it was the home side that wrestled back the ascendancy. 

Substitute Hamish Dalzell was red-carded for a high shot on Michael Hooper. The following maul, the Waratahs were given a penalty try and Pablo Matera was sent from the field for collapsing close to their line. It was a defining few moments in the match and gave the Waratahs an important win to keep their season alive. 

Skipper Jake Gordon echoed his coach’s sentiments, saying the team wanted to put out a performance for the fans who persevered through tough times in recent seasons. Saturday’s game at Leichhardt Oval saw a 10,000-strong crowd come through the turnstiles.

“To see a turnout like that, it was awesome. We felt we needed to repay the faith a little bit and I think we’re slowly winning back supporters. I’m just really happy to see such a good turnout and for us to back that up with a good performance.”

When Coleman was asked about turning his attention towards their game against Moana Pasifika, he highlighted the importance of savouring the victory and using it as motivation moving forward in their 2022 campaign. 

“I will figure that stuff out later. For now, you’ve got to enjoy it. I really want them to enjoy that, and I want them to feel those waves of sheer elation that roll over you after a win.”

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