Crusaders sneak win over NSW Waratahs
The Crusaders displayed a ruthless streak but few tangible few qualities as they snuck a fortuitous 16-14 trial match win over the NSW Waratahs in Sydney tonight.
A Tom Taylor penalty nine minutes from time was sufficient to cancel out a two-try resurgence from the Waratahs as the home side's policy of refusing kickable penalties belately exerted pressure on the seven-time Super Rugby champions.
While the Waratahs sought to play expansively, the Crusaders adhered to a more pragmatic approach and despite boos echoing around the cavernous Sydney Football Stadium, Taylor coolly converted the match-winner.
Other than finally recording a trial win after losses to the Highlanders and Hurricanes, there was little for Todd Blackadder to enthuse about ahead of their round three appointment with the Blues at Eden Park.
Heavily penalised by former New Zealand referee Steve Walsh, a Crusaders side strengthened by All Black reinforcements at least held their line intact for sustained periods.
Keeping man of the match Israel Folau at bay was one pre-game priority and although the cross-code convert showed glimpses of class he caused minimal damage.
Folau had a sparse crowd enthused after just 20 seconds when he broke the line at the first attempt, the high profile league and Aussie Rules convert also made inroads close to the ruck early on though despite that promising beginning he provided the Crusaders first points.
Folau, named at fullback and playing for the Waratahs at home for the first time, temporarily forget he wasn't representing the Queensland or the Kangaroos when he deliberately punched the ball over the dead ball line as George Whitelock chased his grubber.
Rather than lining up for a goal line restart Folau watched as Dan Carter opened the scoring - the only points of a predictably loose opening quarter.
The All Blacks maestro had a quiet game and was barely noticeable compared to his counterpart Ben Volavola, who endured a nightmarish debut.
A former under-20s international, the inexperienced Volavola's passing was particularly skittish, placing his high quality outsides under unnecessary pressure.
It was Volavola's transfer than instigated Whitelock's kick ahead and when he was pinned down when attempting to run the ball in the 22nd minute, the resulting ruck penalty enabled Carter to punt the Crusaders into a rare threatening position.
The lineout had not functioned smoothly but Ben Funnell found his jumper from 10-metres out - tighthead Pa'ea Fanunu was the beneficiary when a fragmented rolling maul propelled him over the line.
Carter added the sideline conversion his last tangible act before Volavola inadvertently ended the world's premier five-eighth's involvement.
Volavola's half break wrong footed Carter and he limped off with a leg injury after attempting to tackle the rookie.
The injury did not appear serious and Carter happily signed autographs as he sat on the bench for the remainder of the contest.
Taylor replaced Carter and nailed a 38-metre penalty to give the Crusaders a 13-0 buffer at the break.
They were then Crusaders consigned to defensive duties for the bulk of the third quarter and rarely ventured out of their half.
The Crusaders absorbed plenty of pressure - though the concession of a lopsided penalty count - and eventually cracked on the hour when reserve No.8 Lopeti Timani defied four defenders to crash over despite a high body position.
Halfback Brendan McKibbin added the extras to set up a tense finale - an unlikely scenario had the home side not turned down seven kickable penalties before their perseverance was rewarded with a five-pointer.
That expansive approach off again six minutes later when prop Paddy Ryan emerged smiling from the bottom of a maul but the joy was short-lived as the Crusaders produced a trademark escape act to surge within range of the posts for Taylor to strike.
Crusaders 16 (Pa'ea Fanunu try; Dan Carter pen con; Tom Taylor 2 pen)
Waratahs 14 (Lopeti Timani, Paddy Ryan tries; Brendan McKibbin 2 con)