The NSW Waratahs are crying foul after giving up the biggest lead in Super Rugby history in a heartbreaking 31-29 loss to the mighty Crusaders.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson, himself a multiple championship winner with New Zealand’s powerhouse franchise, was full of praise on Saturday night for the Crusaders after they overhauled a 29-0 first-half deficit.
But he rued no action being taken against Crusaders prop Joe Moody for taking out Waratahs centre Kurtley Beale in the lead-up to the home team’s first try in the 35th minute.
“That’s an elbow to the throat of a player unprotected. It’s a red-card offence. The try should not be scored. The guy should not be on the field,” former Wallaby-turned-Fox Sports analyst Rod Kafer said in commentary.
Gibson was unable to hide his frustration after the Waratahs had to settle for a losing bonus point to retain their Australian conference lead.
“A couple of decisions proved really costly – obviously the Joe Moody incident with the elbow, which the referees missed,” he said.
“In my book, it’s an elbow to the head so I’m sure the powers that be are looking at that.”
The Waratahs led 29-0 after as many minutes following a dream start at AMI Stadium, only to concede five unanswered tries to fall painfully short in their bold bid to end a 14-year winless drought in Christchurch.
The Crusaders’ epic escape also extended New Zealand teams’ winning streak over Australian opposition to 39 matches since the Waratahs beat the Chiefs in May, 2016 in Sydney.
Waratahs five-eighth Bernard Foley had the chance to snatch victory late but missed a 40-metre penalty – 15 minutes after also hooking an easier attempt.
Ultimately, though, the Waratahs paid the price for their ill-discipline with yellow cards for halfback Nick Phipps and winger Taqele Naiyaravoro either side of halftime leaving the visitors a man down for 20 minutes of the dramatic encounter.
“It’s hard to beat these guys with 14 men,” said vanquished captain Michael Hooper.
“We can stack points on quickly and play a really exciting brand of rugby and put a top team under pressure.
“We know what we’re capable of and it’s disappointing we let that one slip.”
The Waratahs had arrived across the Tasman on Friday to a protester confronting Israel Folau for his controversial online posts about homosexuality.
But it clearly didn’t rattle the superstar fullback as he delivered a blinding first-half display that silenced the shellshocked home crowd until the Crusaders began to mount their incredible revival.
Winger Cam Clark bagged NSW’s first try after a superb counter-attack sparked by Foley, who missed the conversion but added a penalty for an 8-0 start.
A Naiyaravoro intercept try extended the Tahs’ lead to 15-0. It was 22-0 after 24 minutes when Folau started and finished his own spectacular try by soaring high in contact to retrieve a Crusaders bomb and combining with Beale.
When Folau won another aerial contest to set up NSW’s fourth try through Curtis Rona, the Waratahs were flying.
But the Crusaders turned the helter-skelter match with three quickfire five-pointers through Moody, Codie Taylor and a coach killer to Seta Tamanivalu, four minutes after the halftime buzzer following Phipps’ dismissal, to cut the deficit to 29-19.
Winger Braydon Ennor crossed out wide while Naiyaravoro was in the bin, before the Crusaders finally hit the front in the 68th minute with a penalty try after repeated NSW scrum infringements on their own line.