The Waratahs have lost a heartbreaker to the Crusaders, 31-29, in Christchurch, after leading 29-0.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley missed two vital penalty chances that would have given the Waratahs the advantage late in the game, including one in the 77th minute.
The Waratahs led until the 68th minute in Christchurch, after four unanswered tries in the opening half hour were all but nullified by half-time, and a penalty try put the hosts in front for the first time.
A 14-7 penalty count against the Waratahs didn’t help the situation, with Nick Phipps and Taqele Nayaravoro yellow-carded, and two seemingly blatant offences going unnoticed by the referees.
Fortune turned away from the Waratahs just 10 seconds in, conceding an unlucky penalty, but rather than let the pain compound, the Waratahs found the line through Cam Clark in the fourth minute.
Clark’s score was the kind of movement the Waratahs have shown in glimpses this season, but this time their gains weren’t stuttered by an easy turnover, as they notched the first of four answered tries in the opening half hour.
The Crusaders were making the errors in the early moments, opening the door for NSW with knock ons and loose carries, before Bernard Foley slotted a penalty to stretch the margin to eight points.
Foley allowed the Crusaders a chance with a kick that failed to find touch, but remarkably it was the Waratahs who managed to turn things around again, a rampaging Taqele Naiyaravoro plucking an intercept try.
Israel Folau was critical in the next two scores, gobbling up a Crusaders kick and finishing off a nice one-two with Kurtley Beale, before getting the better of an aerial contest, as a George Bridge deflection popped the ball up for Curtis Rona to score in the 28th minute.
Despite the fast start, there still hung a sense of inevitability around the Crusaders, as they mounted pressure on NSW, before prop Joe Moody dove over in the 35th minute, and four minutes later they mauled their way to a second.
It was then that things began to unravel, with the Crusaders growing in confidence and halfback Phipps sin-inned, allowing Crusaders winger Seta Tamanivalu to pounce on an overlap in attack, whittling down a 29-point gap to just 10 at the break.
That was the only try the Waratahs conceded without Phipps, but speedy offloads put the Crusaders on top in the opening stage of the second half, and not long after the half returned, Naiyaravoro was in the chair for a deliberate knock down.
An unrelenting flood of possession and territory paid off for the Crusaders, as the Waratahs conceded a series of penalties, with Brayden Ennor scoring in the corner, closing the gap to five points.
Foley missed two penalty shots in the final 20 minutes, that would have kept the Waratahs in front, but instead they kept the heat squarely on the visitors, and that heat became a penalty try after a series of scrums went overwhelmingly the Crusaders’ way.
The Waratahs mounted an attack but a knock-on call in the 78th minute put the ball back in the Crusaders’ hands, and though they won possession once more, an 81st minute turnover sealed their fate and stretched the trans-Tasman Super Rugby streak to 39 matches.
Salt for the wound was the sight of Ned Hanigan going off in the 54th minute with what looked like a possible knee injury, leaving replacement prop Harry Johnson-Holmes to pack down at blindside flanker.
Tries: Moody, Taylor, Tamanivalu, Ennor, Penalty
Cons: Mounga 2
Tries: Clark, Naiyaravoro, Folau, Rona
Cons: Foley 3
Yellow Cards: Phipps (40+2), Naiyaravoro (53')