WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The New South Wales Waratahs produced the biggest shock of the season in Super Rugby Pacific Saturday when they beat the Crusaders 24-21 in Sydney. No-one saw it coming but the Waratahs themselves.
The Waratahs’ formline was so poor after a winless season in 2021 and a 51-27 loss to the Hamilton-based Chiefs in this season’s first trans-Tasman round that bookmakers had them as 15-1 outsiders for Saturday’s match against the 12-time Super Rugby Champions.
About 15,000 fans kept the faith and crowded into Leichhardt Oval where they saw the Waratahs make an explosive beginning, build a 17-0 lead by halftime and hold out the Christchurch-based Crusaders who were reduced to 13 men at one point in the second half.
For the Waratahs, the win over the Crusaders was the fulfillment of an internal belief that they have left behind the darkest days of the 2021 season. The players credit head coch Darren Coleman with being the team’s transformative influence.
New South Wales now has won six of 10 Super Rugby matches since Coleman took charge.
Flyhalf Tane Edmed said Coleman “has instilled so much belief and a culture where we all believe in each other.
“We were a young team last year but one year has made such a big difference. We’re so much more experienced and it’s just a belief thing.”
Coleman said the context of last year's poor results and the continued support of the fans made the win over the Crusaders emotional.
“There’s a lot of emotion because we got some wins this year and we’ve won some credibility back. But to knock off a top team like the Crusaders — it’s an awesome result,” he said.
“Even in the warm-up, watching the crowd roll in. I talk to these boys about it regularly. When you see people line up to come out and watch us it’s a good feeling. When you can send them home happy, that’s a pretty powerful thing.”
The Crusaders were at less than full strength for the match, resting four All Blacks, including playmaker Richie Mo’unga. But Coleman refused to allow that to devalue the Waratahs’ win.
“The naysayers will say we beat them a little bit under-strength but I don’t care, we beat them,” he said. “The boys are Tah tough. They care. If you care about what you’re doing, you will be able to do things you didn’t know you could do.”
The 11th round of the season again indicated Australia-based teams are much more competitive than they were last year.
The Melbourne Rebels beat Auckland-based Moana Pasifika 26-22 for their third win of the season. The Western Force, returning after an outbreak of COVID forced the postponement of last weekend’s match against Moana Pasifika, rallied strongly in the second half before going down 22-18 to the top-ranked Blues.
The Fijian Drua, who had been based in Australia throughout the season, were unlucky to lose 27-24 to the Dunedin-based Highlanders in their first-ever home match in the Fiji capital Suva.
The Drua produced three excellent first half tries but errors, especially in the defensive half, cost them heavily in the second half.
“I’ve always asked our players to express themselves,” Drua head coach Mick Byrne said. “I think we’re just finding a way between expressing ourselves and getting used to the attritional type of game that Super Rugby is.”
The ACT Brumbies capped a good weekend for Australia-based teams which won three of six matches with a 42-25 win over the Wellington-based Hurricanes.
The match was close until a run of three tries from set pieces gave the Brumbies a 15-point lead midway through the second half.
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