SYDNEY, Australia, Mar 23 – The Canterbury Crusaders’ 19-game win streak was brought to a halt Saturday by the NSW Waratahs, with star Wallabies fullback Israel Folau equalling the all-time Super Rugby try record.
Defeat culminated a traumatic week for a team left reeling by the Christchurch mosque massacres.
Based in the New Zealand town where a white supremacist killed 50 people a week ago, the Crusaders were playing their first game since the tragedy.
But the reigning champions were unable to get the win they desperately wanted, crashing 20-12 in a scrappy match on a wet night at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Folau wrote himself into the record books with a 59th touchdown, matching the mark held by Doug Howlett during his stints at the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Blues between 1997-2007.
In a show of solidarity, both teams ran onto the field at the same time before linking arms in a minute’s silence to commemorate those who died in the mass shooting that stunned rugby-mad New Zealand.
The Crusaders, who wore armbands with the words “United 15-03-2019”, marking the day of the tragedy, cancelled their match last week against the Highlanders so the players could return home.
Asked if he had a message for Christchurch, Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock replied: “Obviously it hasn’t been a great week but we stayed pretty tight. That’s what we’re trying to do as a team and we’re doing it as a city too.”
Many of the players admitted the shootings hit them hard and the Crusaders’ focus was lacking as Jed Holloway powered through two tackles to dive between the posts after just three minutes.
The Waratahs got another try eight minutes later when Folau won a ball in the air and offloaded to Cameron Clark who scorched down the line.
Stunned, the Crusaders, minus the experienced Owen Franks and Kieran Reid, woke up and pulled one back when George Bridge sliced through the defence after a line-out win.
But a Bernard Foley penalty saw the home team head to the break with a 15-7 lead and on a greasy pitch, the Crusaders couldn’t find a way back.
The Tahs dominated in the second stanza with Folau’s late touchdown putting the game beyond reach. Will Jordan pulled one back for the Crusaders on the siren, but it was too late.
– Hats off –
Earlier, a late try and conversion from Beauden Barrett saw the Hurricanes end the Stormers’ three-game win streak 34-28 in Wellington.
The two teams also linked arms during a moment’s silence ahead of a see-sawing eight-try game.
South Africa’s Stormers came into the match with plenty of confidence, but playing in New Zealand is a tough assignment and they failed to make the most of their opportunities.
The visitors took a six-point lead with SP Marais slotting two easy penalties but the Canes, who rested All Blacks trio Dane Coles, TJ Perenara and Ngani Laumape, soon settled.
When the Stormers made a mess of a lineout, big prop Ben May drove over the line and with Stormers’ fly-half Jean-Luc du Plessis in the sin bin, Jordie Barrett got their second.
Kolisi hit back by slipping through the defence after a line-out and they got another when Bongi Mbonambi flopped over from a driving maul.
But the Canes came storming back with Wes Goosen getting two second-half tries before Barrett worked his magic to settle the game.
In Singapore, Japan’s Sunwolves put up a valiant fight despite the previous day’s announcement of their exit from Super Rugby hanging over their heads, but lost to South Africa’s Lions 37-24.
Team captain Dan Pryor said the news the Sunwolves will be axed after next season was “devastating” on the players but coach Tony Brown said it had “zero” effect on how they played Saturday.
“We got a goal we got to do this year and next year and the boys are up to to complete that goal,” Pryor said.
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