‘They wanted it more’- Tremendous Tahs hold off Crusaders for famous win

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Since the dawn of Super Rugby, coaches, players, pundits and punters have wondered how to beat the perennial powerhouse that is the Crusaders.

And on Saturday evening the NSW Waratahs may have worked it out: make sure they have 13 players and you have 15.

And even then it can be a close run thing, as the Waratahs found, holding off the fast-finishing Crusaders 24-21 at one of the 13-man game’s spiritual grounds, Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval.

Tane Edmed – whose father Steve spilled blood on this surface for Balmain Tigers – was a gibbering wreck when interviewed by Stan Sport analyst Morgan Turinui.

“I don’t have the words,” Edmed said, bottom lip quivering.

“I’ve got 30 friends and family here. I’ve got these boys [his team-mates]. And the fans have been outstanding.

“Some of the stuff we endured last year, we didn’t win a game … the support and belief that ‘DC’ [Darren Coleman] instilled … we know we can do it,” Edmed said.

He went to join his teammates. And he blubbered again. Beautiful stuff.

Crusaders captain Cody Taylor said the Waratahs “wanted it more”.

“We didn’t start well and they capitalised and put points on the board. We found it hard to peg them back. We didn’t play smart to the conditions – it was a dewy ball. We could’ve been better there.”

That a side from the south island of New Zealand – where slippery balls are just known as “balls” – was outplayed by top-of-surface fun-runners from Sydney spoke volumes.

Indeed pre-match it had appeared inconceivable.

Yet after Edmed landed a penalty goal in the 39th minute of the match – one that saw the Waratahs go to half-time leading 17-0 – the small but vocal crowd nudged one another and thought: who are these Waratahs and what have they done with the Waratahs?

With fans still emptying out of local pubs, left winger (and player of the match) Dylan Pietsch opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a fine and blockbusting run off a flat Jake Gordon pass.

Five minutes later Izaia Perese danced to the line before setting up right winger Mark Nawaqanitawase with a one-handed back-hander.

When Edmed nailed the sideline conversion, said crowd began to believe, albeit cautiously – for the pedigree of their opponents is well known.

Yet Waratahs had looked more confident, like they were enjoying themselves. Coach Coleman has definitely instilled an edict in his charges to ‘play’. Not meaning muck around – it’s physical and tight rugby when required. But there didn’t appear any deer in headlights in his XXIII.

“We can’t stop playing; 17 points won’t win this,” Coleman told Stan Sport at half time.

“We’ve got to keep playing rather than defending the lead.”

They didn’t stop playing. But nor did the Crusaders.

rolling maul near the Tahs’ line yielded a penalty try, a conversion and the binning of Tahs No.8 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco.

The Crusaders rang the changes, with 60 per cent of their tight five replaced. The Tahs won a defensive lineout near their line. Then they won another one against the throw.

And the crowd roared afresh.

Still the ‘Saders came. Even missing four All Blacks, they are the competition’s testing material. Sione Havili Talitui rumbled over. The conversion made it 17-14.

And then something happened that would have appeared inconceivable this time last year: the home crowd went up a gear, urging on the home team. And the players lifted, visibly.

Mark Nawaqanitawase of the Waratahs scores a try.

Mark Nawaqanitawase of the Waratahs scores a try. (Photo by Pete Dovgan/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Crusaders were off. They turned over more ball than normal. They leaked penalties. Had men off the field with cards.

Crusaders replacement lock Hamish Dalzell was twice involved in high tackles – one on Edmed, the other on Michael Hooper.

The first was deemed a nothing burger. The second saw him sent off, following Hooper up the race.

With the crowd urging them on, the Waratahs took on the seven-man Crusaders pack with a driving maul that begat a penalty try.

Argentine No.6 Pablo Matera was immediately sin-binned and the Crusaders would finish the game, all bar the last minute, with 13 men.

With 11 minutes to go it was the Waratahs by 10. And they began to exploit space. Will Harris burned downfield. The Crusaders won a ruck penalty.

And the champs did not go gently into the night. With 13 men they scored a try after a fine break by David Havili led to prop Fletcher Newell rumbling over.

Simon Hickey converted. And it was three points the difference. And the Waratahs may have wondered: how do we kill these people?

For still they came: Jack Goodhue prominent. Giant Sam Whitelock. Matera came back on.

But the Waratahs defence was inspired. Charlie Gamble was like an squat, athletic sumo; borderline immovable.

And the Waratahs, who’d won exactly zero games in 2021, had taken down the game’s biggest provincial scalp.

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