Crusaders concede Waratahs ‘slammed’ the door shut in loss

The Crusaders have further cemented their standing at the bottom of the Super Rugby Pacific table with another gut-wrenching loss to the Waratahs in Sydney.

Hopes were high for the reigning champions in round eight after a statement win over the Chiefs in their last outing, but any chance to claw themselves off the bottom of the ladder was postponed by an eager Tahs outfit who came ready to fight fire with fire.

A chaotic start saw Sevu Reece claim the opening try of the game within the first minute, but Lachlan Swinton wasn’t prepared to see his side drop to their seventh loss of the season and barrelled over the try line just two minutes later.

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That response was indicative of what would become a seesaw match with a dozen lead changes leading to golden point and a dramatic finish.

“It hurts. The feeling out there is what anyone at home would expect. It hurts,” Crusaders captain Tom Christie told Stan Sport after the match.

“We did a lot of good things but left the door open too many times, the Waratahs are a quality football team.

“It’s cliche but it’s true tonight; when you leave the door open, they slammed it shut.”

Christie added that he saw plenty of positives in the match as well: “One hundred per cent, there’s learnings in any game and I think the most important thing after a win or a loss is that we actually bank those learnings, and never rest on your laurels.

“So, we’ll take what we need to out of that game, leave behind what we don’t and we’ll evolve as a team. We’ve been in this position already this year; we’ve learnt, we’ve learnt, but we’ve just got to keep going, keep pushing.

“There’s elements, we’ve just got to put it together for the complete package.”

Coming out of the halftime break down one point, Crusaders coach Rob Penney joined the broadcast to share his thoughts on the contest so far, saying: “Yeah it was (a hell of a first half), high minutes, high meters, it’s pretty tiring.”

The coach then spoke on the return of All Black Ethan Blackadder, who made his season debut in the game.

“He has been (in the thick of it), double efforts. Really proud of him, just a quality individual and a quality player and he’s showing it tonight,” the coach said.

He then commented on the positives he saw from his side in the opening half.

“I guess we’ve been playing a little bit stodgily over the last wee while and we’ve just developed a little bit of confidence on the back of last week. We’re just making a few errors tonight, we’re just not quite as clinical as we were last week.

Finally, Penney offered congratulations to Sevu Reece, who, in another wildly impressive outing, tied the Crusaders’ all-time try-scoring record with 52, after only debuting for the team in 2019. The record is also held by Caleb Ralph.

“Congratulations to Sevu, his family and all of his connections. Caleb would be justifiably proud of Sevu’s performance, they’re two great wingers.”

The final play of the game was a moment of Will Harrison magic, with the reserve playmaker slotting into the pocket and profiting from some strong carries from the Waratahs forward pack which put him in a position to get a clean drop goal attempt away.

The ball sailed blissfully between the posts, and the ensuing scenes around Allianz stadium were anything but. Harrison was mobbed by his ecstatic teammates while a raucous chorus enveloped the Sydney stands.

Penney’s team offered a stark contrast in emotion, and speaking to Stan Sport following the match, the coach emphasised how his team will be better for the experience of the loss.

“Yeah there’s some things you can only learn by going through them,” he told Stan Sport.

“People have to learn by being exposed and it was a different situation tonight.

“You have your discussions around what it looks like when you’re in situations like extra time but it’s really living that moment when reality hits.”

The emotions were heightened for Crusaders halfback Mitchell Drummond, who expressed his love and support for a Crusaders icon and close friend, Richie Mo’unga, who is mourning a great loss this weekend.

“Obviously, one of my good mates, my best mate’s old man passed away. Just want to shout out to the Mo’unga family, we’re thinking of you all and send our love and best wishes for the next couple of weeks,” Drummond said.

It was a sentiment echoed by interviewer Sonny Bill Williams, who added: “Love you uso, much love to the family.”

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