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The crucial mistake that cost Crusaders certain win over Waratahs

By Finn Morton
Christian Lio-Willie of the Crusaders celebrates with his team mates after scoring a try during the round eight Super Rugby Pacific match between NSW Waratahs and Crusaders at Allianz Stadium, on April 12, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles thought Rivez Reihana was always “going to kick this early” as the Crusaders first five lined up a shot at goal with the match all but won against the Waratahs on Friday.

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The Crusaders, who were searching for what would’ve been their second win from seven starts this season, seemed to snatch it late when replacement Christian Lio-Willie scored in the 79th minute.

Lio-Willie picked up the ball at the base of an attacking scrum five metres out from the try line before running through tackle attempts from backrower Lachlan Swinton and halfback Teddy Wilson.

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Mitchell Drummond, Cullen Grace, Macca Springer and Reihana were the first to flock to their try-scoring teammate, but the five-pointer still had to be confirmed by referee Nic Berry and the TMO.

Once the try was given the green light, and as the Crusaders grouped in a huddle with captain Tom Christie doing the talking, Reihana lined up the shot at goal. But it didn’t need to go over.

The shot clock was ahead of the game clock. Reihana could’ve let time elapse for the Crusaders to win, but after taking the attempt with a second left, the Waratahs seized their chance to send the thriller to extra-time.

“The Tahs-Crusaders, there’s always something unique about those games,” former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles said on Stan Sports’ Between Two Posts. “Great one to be a part of sitting in the crowd and watching the game finish as it did.

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“At no stage was I convinced that either side was clear favourites or had the game lost. It was open the whole entire way.

“I always had a feeling that no matter what happened… I was watching the whole time thinking, ‘He’s going to kick this early, he’s gonna kick this early.’

“Once you set up your kick, your time to delay is in the setup of the kick. Kickers have their routine, they’re not gonna hold back another 20 seconds.

“He should’ve delayed his setup of his kick. Once you’ve set the ball up and you’re ready, you’re going through your same motion otherwise you compromise your kick.

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“I thought (the Tahs) were going to get another chance.”

The Waratahs managed to retain possession off the restart as they prepared to march their way up the field. To the delight of the crowd, they began to look like a real chance of doing something special.

As they spread the ball wide, Crusaders wing Johnny McNicholl was penalised and shown a yellow card for an international knockdown. That gave the Waratahs a golden opportunity to tie it.

Playmaker Will Harrison sent the match to golden point with a clutch long-range penalty goal, and the replacement was the hero once again with a drop goal to win it 43-40 just a few minutes later.

Match Summary

4
Penalty Goals
3
4
Tries
5
4
Conversions
3
1
Drop Goals
0
119
Carries
127
6
Line Breaks
6
15
Turnovers Lost
13
5
Turnovers Won
6

Harrison, who returned to Super Rugby Pacific this season after more than 700 days away following a horror run of injuries, was the man of the moment on a famous night at Allianz Stadium.

“I watched the setup and there were two, three, maybe four players that rushed to his left side on his final instruction. That was the thing that’s most important – he had time,” Hoiles explained.

“I knew he was going to get a clean strike out of it because of the way he set the guys up.

“I thought they’d gone a phase or two too long but then when they came back to the other side I was like, at least he’s got his guys in front of him.”

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