Playing with “house money”, the Waratahs have pulled off the upset of the Super Rugby season – and one of Australian rugby’s biggest wins on the field in years – by taking down the Crusaders at Leichhardt Oval.
Considered $15 outsiders by the bookies, the Waratahs took an astonishing 17-0 lead into the half-time sheds and managed to hold on to record a remarkable 24-21 victory in front of 10,293 fans.
Winless in 2021, the Waratahs have officially turned the corner under perennial Shute Shield winner and first-year coach, Darren Coleman.
NSW have now won six from their opening 10 matches, but after two months playing Australian opposition, defeating the Crusaders – the Kings of Super Rugby – in just their second trans-Tasman match of the season gives them integrity.
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Charlie Gamble – the former Crusaders product, who took the biggest leap of faith by taking an offer with Subbies team Petersham when things didn’t work out across the ditch five years ago – provided the telling blow.
Despite the Crusaders being reduced to 13 men in the 67th minute following a yellow card and penalty try, the Kiwis looked likely to break Australian hearts once more as they attacked NSW’s line.
But the 26-year-old cult hero got on the ball to win the Waratahs a crucial penalty with two minutes remaining.
And when the Waratahs won another penalty from the next lineout, captain Jake Gordon, who copped the brunt of last season’s year from hell, booted the ball into the stands.
“I’m stoked, we’ve been working to wins like that for a long time,” Gordon said.
“Really disappointing year for us last year, but like last week, I think the score wasn’t reflective of our performance, but they still hit 50 which was disappointing, but to bounce back like that, Charlie Gamble put in an impressive performance, I’m over the moon.”
Missing both their first choice hookers following head knocks following the 51-27 loss to the Chiefs a week ago, the Waratahs were given little to no hope against the Crusaders.
But just as they waltzed into Sydney’s hip inner-west wearing casual clothes inspired by the NBA playoffs for their captain’s run, the Waratahs played like a team with nothing to lose.
Indeed, Test prop Harry Johnson-Holmes had summed it up best when he said “$15 is pretty good value.”
“We’re pretty cool-headed. If the bookies have us at $15 and no one gives us a chance then we’ve got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money. We’re pretty excited to get to Leichhardt.”
So excited that the Waratahs raced out of the blocks, as former Australian Sevens star scored from a slick set-piece move in the second minute.
Talented winger Mark Nawaqanitawase then helped the Waratahs double their score after 11 minutes, as he pounced on a sublime ball from Wallaby Izaia Perese.
Tane Edmed, who is off contact at season’s end and is playing his way into not just a new deal but Wallabies calculations, converted from the sideline and then when he added a penalty in the 37th minute the home side took a 17-0 lead into half time.
As expected, the Crusaders, who rested a number of first-choice stars including playmaker Richie Mo’unga, rallied.
They scored back to back tries to close to within three points midway through the second half.
But a red card to Hamish Dalzell, who collected Michael Hooper in the head to force the Wallabies captain off the field in the 67th minute, turned the match.
Moments later the Wallabies were awarded a penalty try and Argentinian star Pablo Matera was sent to the sin bin.
Holding a 10-point lead, the Crusaders showed all their fighting power to cut the score to three points with five minutes to play.
But it wasn’t enough, as the Waratahs held on for a famous win.