The Reds’ 33-3 lead at half-time was the only time an Australian side has been in front at the break in this competition.
However, trailing 40-8 in the 64th minute, the Chiefs sparked what was nearly the greatest comeback in Super Rugby history.
When Xavier Roe scored in the 78th minute, the Chiefs had amazingly got within six points to send an almighty scare through the Reds camp but the Super Rugby Aotearoa runners-up couldn’t conjure another try at the death.
“Really not happy with that second half,” said Reds co-captain Liam Wright. “We let them play how they wanted to and dictate it to us. To our credit we held our nerve and got the win which we were searching for.”
As Chiefs captain Bred Weber put it: “If the game went for another five minutes we might have got it”.
The cold hard facts don’t make for easy reading though.
Take away the Reds’ win and Australian sides have lost their other 13 matches by an average margin of 21.5 points.
Meanwhile, the Waratahs are one loss away from equalling the longest run of defeats by an Australian team in Super Rugby history.
Despite chalking up defeat No.11 on the trot, the Waratahs insist they’re not far from turning a corner.
NSW conceded their second-highest number of points against the Crusaders since 1996, still well shy of the infamous 96-19 result in 2002.
A half-time deficit of 26-9 became worse after the break as Crusaders captain Scott Barrett dived over for a five-pointer. However, two NSW tries in the space of three minutes sparked hope of a miracle as the home side thundered back to 33-23.
Jack Maddocks ran an excellent line to score near the posts before a slick back-line build-up resulted in Izaia Perese bulldozing his way to the try line.
However, three converted tries from the Crusaders ensured the Waratahs remain winless in 2021.
“I don’t think we’re far away,” Waratahs co-coach Chris Whitaker said. “It’s just about finishing off games. They’ve got good depth over there at the moment.
“Probably a bit conservative in that first half with the wind. We looked pretty good against them when we played some footy.”
The Waratahs’ leaky defence continued and from 11 matches this season the team has conceded an average of 41.6 points.
“I think it’s the cohesion and playing with each other. Defence is all about time in the saddle and getting used to each other,” Whitaker said.
“In Super Rugby in New Zealand a lot of their tries came from unstructured attack. You give them a little bit of space and they take it.”
The Melbourne Rebels’ 12-match losing streak in 2011 and 2012, the worst run by an Australian team, is in danger of being eclipsed unless NSW can cause boilovers against the Highlanders and Chiefs in coming weeks.
While some bookies wouldn’t even give a dollar profit from a $100 bet on the Crusaders, it was clear a one-sided affair was on the cards in Wollongong.
However, for the opening 35 minutes the Waratahs were never further away than a converted try behind and happy chipping away in multiples of three.
Perese was immense for the Waratahs, despite the eight-tries-to-three defeat, and will push for Wallabies honours later in the year.
Wollongong has been a disappointing venue for the Waratahs, who lost 51-14 to the Chiefs last year in one of the last games before COVID-19 forced the world into lockdown.
Ben Donaldson came off with a groin injury in the 31st minute, while Harry Johnson-Holmes appeared to suffer a nasty head knock but was cleared to stay on the field.
However, after a short stint, Johnson-Holmes was taken from the field by Rugby Australia chief medical officer Warren McDonald for a head injury assessment.
The monkey is off Australian rugby’s back but there is still plenty of soul-searching to come.
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