Crusaders' 19-match winning streak ended by Waratahs
The Canterbury Crusaders suffered their first Super Rugby defeat in more than a year on Saturday but the deadly shootings in their home city of Christchurch last week will give them some perspective on their 20-12 loss to the New South Wales Waratahs.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said his side would be playing for their community at the Sydney Cricket Ground but the nine-times champions were a shadow of their dominant best as their 19-match winning streak was snapped.
Fullback Isreal Folau scored the last of the three Waratahs tries to match the Super Rugby record of former All Blacks winger Doug Howlett at 59.
On a day when Christchurch reopened the two mosques where 50 people were killed in the March 15 attack and 3,000 paraded through the city in a "march for love", their rugby team were expected to win relatively comfortably.
But, perhaps a bit rusty after their match against the Otago Highlanders last Saturday was cancelled in the wake of the shootings, perhaps because of the emotion of the last week, the Crusaders were outmuscled by the Waratahs.
"It hasn't been a great week but everybody's been staying pretty tight and we're doing that as a team, and for Christchurch as well," said Crusaders skipper Sam Whitelock.
The teams stood arm-in-arm in a circle on the pitch for a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the Christchurch attack before the start of the match.
The Waratahs gave up a 29-0 lead to lose 31-29 in the corresponding fixture last year so even when tries from lock Jed Holloway and winger Cam Clark put them 12-0 up after 11 minutes, there was plenty of caution around the SCG.
Defensive lapses from the Crusaders helped with Holloway running straight through the tackle of Jordan Taufua for the first and Folau leaping above a host of New Zealanders to claim a high kick and send Clark away for the second.
The Crusaders, under pressure in the set piece, were struggling to hold onto the ball in greasy conditions and George Bridge's 29th minute try was their first real chance to cross the home line.
It was a bit fortuitous too, with the inside pass that set the winger on his way looking suspiciously forward.
Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley completed the first-half scoring with a penalty after 39 minutes and Mitch Hunt, kicking instead of rested Crusaders pivot Richie Mo'unga, missed the next attempt at goal 17 minutes after the break.
The Crusaders kept plugging away but the passes that usually fall to hand did not and the Waratahs pack kept to at least parity in the fierce battles at the breakdown.
With six minutes to go and the referee playing advantage, Foley sent up a superb crosskick which winger Alex Newsome tapped back to leave Folau the simplest of touch downs for his record-equalling 59th five-pointer.
Substitute Will Jordan scored a late consolation for the Crusaders, who may not keep their name for much longer.
Chief executive Colin Mansbridge said last Sunday they were open to initiating discussions about a change because of its associations with the medieval religious wars between Christians and Muslims.