Wallaby Berrick Barnes missed a fulltime penalty leaving the Crusaders with an unlikely 23 - 22 win over the Waratahs in Christchurch tonight.
The Crusaders were decimated during the game with a host of top players forced off, including All Black captain-in-waiting Kieran Read who appeared to have a neck injury and failed to show for the second half.
The Crusaders had been chasing the game throughout but set up a thrilling final stanza when Matt Todd rumbled over the line in a pile of bodies in the 65th minute, leaving the Waratahs leading by just 22 - 20. A 50 metre Dan Carter penalty settled the issue and put paid to the Waratahs' Super 15 hopes.
The Crusaders' spirit had to be admired, but they were a long way short of the qualities that have brought them so many titles.
The Kiddy Crusaders were left to scrape a victory, and they were led by Carter, who showed a fighting spirit in taking on the defensive line.
The Waratahs just about owned the first half, apart from a late rally by the lack lustre Crusaders. The visitors dominated possession and came up with two outstanding, contrasting tries in the spell. The first, finished by wing Cam Crawford, was the result of a long build up.
The next was engineered from a lineout with loose forward Michael Hooper flying through the Crusaders defensive line and veering away from Israel Dagg, who couldn't hang on to the big wing Peter Betham as he wrenched himself over the line.
Down 3 - 15, the Crusaders looked lost. Scribes may have been tempted to start writing their season obituary while suggesting that the spluttering red and black machine has failed to understand the trends that are now dominating the game. The Crusaders lack backline power but in this case they were being undone by the sort of efficiency that they have used to to crush opponents.
The Crusaders were a model of inefficiency, conceded a scrum tighthead, their lineout was a bit wobbly, they missed a stack of tackles, and didn't look convinced about what they were doing. In response, the crowd atmosphere was also flat.
With halftime in sight, they finally found their way with a short period of pressure on the Waratahs line which brought a try to Corey Flynn. Carter took the initiative with a quick tap in front of the posts, a risk well worth taking because the Crusaders were in desperate need of an ignition point, and Flynn powered over.
The second half started disastrously for the Crusaders however with a Dave Dennis intercept leading to a Bernard Foley try, followed by a lineout mishap from replacement hooker Ben Funnell, a forward pass and the sight of the normally inspirational prop Wyatt Crockett leaving the field.
This ripped the guts out of their famous tight five - it meant the Crusaders played the second half without All Blacks tight forwards Ben Franks, Crockett, Flynn and Sam Whitelock and new test training squad member Dominic Bird also departed before the final quarter.
Crusaders 23 (Corey Flynn, Matt Todd try; Dan Carter 2 con, 3 pen).Waratahs 22 (Cam Crawford, Peter Betham, Bernard Foley tries; Brendan McKibbin 2 con, pen. Halftime: Waratahs 15 - 10.