The clinical Crusaders have snapped the NSW Waratahs’ four-match winning streak to consolidate their position atop the Super Rugby ladder.
The Waratahs will lament a sloppy start after blowing their chance to end a 12-year hoodoo in Christchurch and take charge of the Australian conference in a 29-10 loss on Friday night.
Two tries – and a 12-0 lead – in the opening 10 minutes ultimately proved much of the difference as the Crusaders prevailed in an entertaining encounter despite the wet conditions at AMI Stadium.
The Waratahs’ defeat was a huge reprieve for the Brumbies, who now look in the box seat to snare Australia’s guaranteed finals spot.
Unable to pick up any competition points with the bye this weekend, the Brumbies will be strong favourites in their last four home-and-away games against the struggling Sunwolves, Queensland Reds, Blues and Western Force.
Facing a more challenging run home, the Waratahs will likely need to win their remaining matches against the Chiefs, Sunwolves, Hurricanes and Blues to confirm their place in the playoffs.
Bouncing back from their loss to the defending champion Highlanders last week, the Crusaders moved clear of the chasing back with their ninth win from 11 starts in 2016.
Winger Johnny McNicholl was the star, scoring the hosts’ first try three minutes in and then putting fullback Israel Dagg over shortly after.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was in the crowd and once again would have been impressed with Israel Folau’s latest showing at outside centre as the dual international’s speed, strength and footwork set up a lovely try for winger Rob Horne to bring the Waratahs back into the contest.
Folau continued to shine in the second half, but the Crusaders’ third try, coming from Jordan Taufua, sealed the deal with no Kurtley Beale on hand to inspire a Waratahs fightback.
Former Crusader and All Black Zac Guildford bagged a satisfying try late on in his return from a broken toe but it was a minor consolation for the Tahs.