Crusaders outclass Waratahs in Super Rugby blowout
Vanquished captain Jake Gordon has conceded the NSW Waratahs were powerless to stop the clinical Crusaders from dealing his side a reality check in a 42-18 Super Rugby Pacific drubbing in Christchurch.
Waratahs coach Darren Coleman said pre-game he couldn't wait to see his in-form charges test themselves against the defending champions on Saturday.
He quickly learnt they have much ground to make up ahead of the looming finals.
Even with a front-row crisis and needing to fire off an SOS to 39-year-old John Afoa in France, the Crusaders were a class above as the 11-time Super Rugby kings piled on six tries to three in a bonus-point blowout at Orangetheory Stadium.
With inspirational flanker Michael Hooper being rested, the Crusaders back row applied the blow torch, denying the Waratahs the chance to feed their hungry backs that had led Coleman's men to four straight wins.
"It wasn't a tactic, we weren't good enough to get it there," Gordon said.
"They put a lot of heat a round the breakdown and limited the amount of quick ball we got throughout the game.
"We created opportunities for the first 15 minutes but that sort of last pass hurt us."
Compounding the Waratahs' woes was a knee injury to Wallabies World Cup hopeful Max Jorgensen, with the teenage fullback forced off after only 10 minutes.
The match was as good as over at halftime with the Crusaders enjoying a 28-8 lead despite being on the back foot early.
The heavy defeat leaves NSW assured of finishing the regular season in sixth spot, and Coleman and company will now be sweating on the Crusaders locking up the second position they presently occupy.
Otherwise the Tahs face the grim prospect of having to return to Christchurch, where they haven't won since 2004, in two weeks for a sudden-death quarter-final.
The Crusaders can secure second with a final-round victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington next Saturday before the Waratahs host Moana Pasifika later that night.
Afoa only arrived in New Zealand on Thursday afternoon but the 38-Test former All Black didn't look out of place making the transition from the French second division back to Super Rugby for the first time in almost 5000 days, even being held up over the try line at one point.
"It's been a whirlwind couple of days. It's been amazing," Afoa said after his impressive, improbable 48-minute cameo.
There was no sign of the one-way traffic early when the Waratahs were dominating territory and field position so much that referee James Coleman had to caution Crusaders captain Cody Taylor for the home team conceding four penalties in the opening seven minutes.
He wasn't kidding, with Leicester Fainga'anuku shown a yellow card shortly after.
But a lone penalty goal to Ben Donaldson was scant reward for the Waratahs' hot start as the Crusaders made the visitors pay.
With Jorgensen out of the defensive line being treated, the Crusaders took full advantage with David Havili crossing for the first try in the 10th minute.
The Waratahs briefly regained the lead through a reply from Gordon but a driving maul try to Taylor and a brilliant counter-attacking strike finished off by halfback Mitchell Drummond set the tone for the afternoon.
One positive for the Waratahs was the performance of barnstorming No.8 Langi Gleeson, who continues to draw comparisons with Wallabies great Toutai Kefu and added to his highlights reel with a beautiful offload for a second-half try to winger Dylan Pietsch.