Waratahs flyhalf Berrick Barnes missed a penalty on fulltime as the Crusaders clawed their way back from a 12-point deficit to win 23-22 in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Christchurch on Friday.
Barnes had a shot to win the game on the hooter, after the Crusaders scrum had folded, but pushed it right to throw away a victory the Australian side should have had after outscoring the home side three tries to two.
But the Waratahs will kick themselves as they tried to milk the penalty and took five reset scrums and five minutes on the clock at the end of the game to do so, rather than trying to get an attacking platform to force the winning points.
It became clear the referee Glen Jackson wasn’t trigger happy or keen to give a penalty, and the time used up in the process probably cost them the chance of making sure of a victory rather than putting all their eggs in one basket.
Still, it was an exceptional performance in Christchurch for the Sydney side, who played out of their skins and made the Crusaders look ordinary. But the loss will cost them and their chances of making the playoffs are now virtually over as they recorded their seventh loss on the trot.
At one stage the Crusaders were 22-10 down, but they came back thanks to the boot of Dan Carter and some help from their attacking play, which was aided by a very lenient Jackson on the whistle.
But the fightback came after the Waratahs surged to a 10-0 lead, thanks to an early penalty by Brendan McKibbin and an opening try by Cam Crawford, who managed to find a hole after 17 phases of attack to put his side well up.
Despite a Carter penalty, the Waratahs extended their lead when Michael Hooper surged through a gap and made 40 metres upfield, before offloading to Peter Betham, who managed somehow to make it to the line with four Crusader players trying to stop him.
The Crusaders hit back just before halftime as first Carter was stopped but in the waves of attack that followed, it was inevitable that someone – in this case Corey Flynn – would score from close range.
There was more confidence in the Crusaders game, but it didn’t help too much as Dave Dennis intercepted a short pass and unleashed Bernard Foley to run away from the defence for the try and a handy 22-10 lead for the visitors.
Still, as most sides know, the Crusaders don’t stop until the final whistle goes and they began chipping away at the lead.
Their first telling blow was a lineout drive that went 20 metres and stopped over the line. While the ball wasn’t clear, the TMO awarded the try and they were suddenly within five points.
Buoyed by this they simply kept the pressure on, as Carter plugged away any penalties when they came. 22-17 became 22-20 and then 23-22 with Carter’s boot on song.
The Waratahs came back in the last 10 minutes, but tried too hard to milk the penalty once inside the Crusaders half. It eventually came, but when Barnes missed they would have kicked themselves at missing such a golden opportunity to win in Christchurch.
Crusaders - Tries: Corey Flynn, Matt Todd. Conversions: Dan Carter (2). Penalties: Carter (3).
Waratahs - Tries: Cam Crawford, Peter Betham, Bernard Foley. Conversions: Brendan McKibbin (2). Penalty: McKibbin.