Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Defining moment of a horror weekend for Aussie game

The Crusaders celebrate Bryn Hall's try against the Waratahs in Sydney, one of six they scored to round off a horror weekend for Aussie rugby. Photo / Photosport
The Crusaders celebrate Bryn Hall's try against the Waratahs in Sydney, one of six they scored to round off a horror weekend for Aussie rugby. Photo / Photosport

Perhaps the defining moment of a horror weekend for Australian rugby against New Zealand teams came shortly after halftime of the Waratahs v Crusaders match in Sydney yesterday afternoon.

Having kicked a penalty to close to 10-19 against the Crusaders at the end of the first half, the Waratahs - already tiring from the efforts of playing perhaps one of the fittest teams in the competition - trudged to their changing room and were told explicitly by coach Daryl Gibson to stop kicking the ball to the visitors.

What happened shortly after the re-start worsened his mood considerably; an aimless punt deep into Crusaders territory which wing George Bridge ran back, sparking an attack which finished with Tim Bateman, a midfielder previously coached by Gibson in his former role as a Crusaders assistant coach, going under the posts for his second try of the match.

To compound matters, and with a timing bordering on cruel, the television broadcast cross live to Gibson in the coaches' box for an interview, with commentator Greg Clarke suggesting Bateman's try was not a great way to start the second half of a match which finished in a 22-41 defeat.

"No we absolutely didn't [need that]," Gibson replied. "[We are doing] everything in the changing room we spoke about not to do. With our kick strategy, we're giving them free ball. We talked about trying to make it into a contest and as you saw with that try there, we kicked the ball ... being in the fight for long periods of time is proving to be a difficult thing for us."

Gibson, commonly regarded as one of the nicest blokes in the game, looked about as glum as you can imagine. Even when his side scored two tries in three minutes to close to 22-26, his expression didn't change; with only two wins heading into this match, his side's first this season against a New Zealand team, it was as though he felt it was just a matter of time before he was disappointed again, and his side delivered with a bumbling finish which gave up two more tries.

It was difficult not to feel sorry for Gibson. In Israel Folau he has a genuine attacking weapon and yet the Wallabies outside back touched the ball only seven times all game and conceded a match-high four turnovers.

The continued absence of first-five Bernard Foley has been a blow for them, but the Crusaders are without Kieran Read, Richie Mo'unga, Israel Dagg, Seta Tamanivalu and Jack Goodhue yet just keep on going. They are undefeated after six matches and have the Sunwolves to look forward to - plus the return of Read - after this weekend's bye.

New Zealand's five teams are 11-0 against their Australian counterparts this season and a major reason for that is the ability of the Kiwi players to play with skill under pressure.

A "winning mentality" is a hard concept to define - perhaps a better one is the fact that across the New Zealand teams there is far more pressure on players to retain their positions due to the greater depth of their squads.

The Crusaders had All Blacks Luke Romano and Wyatt Crockett on their reserves bench at Allianz Stadium, but all of Scott Robertson's replacements contributed.

The simple truth is the Australian talent is spread too thinly. That might not be a factor once the Wallabies come together for the Bledisloe Cup in August (to contest a trophy they haven't held since 2002), but the psychological impact of continually losing to New Zealand teams might be.

As Daily Telegraph writer Ian Payton wrote: "Of the four Aussie squads who played this weekend - and the 23-man Brumbies side last week - over one-third of the 115 have never beaten a Kiwi team in Super Rugby. Another 10 or so just have one win.

"Losing is a habit hard-kicked. And pervasive."

- NZ Herald

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