BERRY’S Will Miller and his NSW Waratahs narrowly went down to reigning champions, the Crusaders, in a thrilling 31-29 encounter at Christchurch’s AMI Stadium in round 13 of the Super Rugby.
The NSW Waratahs built up a 29-nil lead before the home team fought back to score 31 unanswered points from the 35-minute mark.
It took just four minutes for the first points to be scored, winger Cam Clark finishing what was an exhilarating piece of counter-attacking play that began from the NSW Waratahs’ own half from a ball that spilt out a maul.
With the score at 5-nil following Bernard Foley’s unsuccessful attempt at goal, the fly-half made amends in the 12th minute by slotting a penalty conversion from 40m out to extend the lead to 8-nil
The Crusaders looked to threaten on a number of occasions in the minutes following, hungry NSW defence and a number of conceded penalties the obstacles between them and the chalk.
As the home team ramped up their next wave of attack in the 17th minute, NSW Waratahs flyer Taqele Naiyaravoro plucked a Crusaders ball out of the air to run in a 40m intercept try.
Foley’s conversion pushed the visitors’ lead to 15-nil by the first quarter.
Fullback Israel Folau was the next player to put his name on the score sheet, showing his prowess in the air and linking up with Kurtley Beale to score a try in the 23rd minute to give the NSW Waratahs a 22-nil lead.
Four minutes later and Folau was back at it again, setting up centre Curtis Rona for the fourth NSW try of the evening and further extend the lead to 29-nil.
With 10 minutes left to play in the first half the Crusaders closed the gap to 29-19, courtesy of three tries in Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Seta Tamanivalu.
The NSW Waratahs entered the sheds up by 10 points, however, were down a man after scrumhalf Nick Phipps was shown a yellow card for repeated infringements around the ruck.
The second 40 began with immediate pressure from the home team, but the NWS Waratahs held on in defence to keep the Crusaders out from their try line.
Early exits from Will Miller and Ned Hanigan resulted in a shortage of backrowers, paving the way for prop Harry Johnson-Holmes to pack down at blindside flanker.
Another blow came in the form of a second yellow card, this time Taqele Naiyaravoro on the receiving end.
It was at this point in the 55th minute where the stalemate was broken, the Crusaders’ set-move putting replacement back Braydon Ennor over in the corner to make it a five-point game.
NSW holding onto a 29-24 lead after Crusaders’ flyhalf Richie Mo’unga’s kick swung away from the posts.
As the NSW Waratahs continued to fight for possession, the Crusaders’ forward pack stepped up to secure a penalty try and thus, a 31-29 lead following relentless pressure at scrum time in the 68th minute.
With five minutes left on the clock, the NSW Waratahs’ attack fought hard to get within striking range of the posts.
Fly-half Bernard Foley was charged with the task of a long-range attempt at goal, his kick for the lead falling just away from the posts.
The visitors fought hard to the very end, building enough momentum to come within 30m of the Crusaders’ line.
Despite their resourcefulness, a handling error halted the attack as the clock ran down in Christchurch.
Despite one final push from NSW after the siren, the home team came away 31-29 victors.