The Canterbury Crusaders picked up a four-try bonus point by half-time, then quashed two spirited comebacks to edge the New South Wales Waratahs 34-33 in a thrilling Super 14 rugby match yesterday.
Current or former All Blacks Campbell Johnstone, Rico Gear, Mose Tuiali'i and Aaron Mauger scored tries as the Crusaders, playing at full strength and with typical gusto, opened a 22-5 lead after only 31 minutes.
The Waratahs, who picked up two bonus points, staged a remarkable comeback to take a 25-22 lead after 46 minutes, then revived again after the Crusaders had scored twice more to lead 34-25.
Winger Peter Hewat kicked a penalty for his fourth goal from six attempts but rushed the conversion of Tatafu Polota-Nau's 69th-minute try, forcing the kick wide of the posts and left the Waratahs one point adrift of their champion opponents.
"I don't know what hurts more, to lose like that or to lose when you're never in it," said Waratahs captain Adam Freier. "This is hurting but it's a step in the right direction."
The Crusaders seemed set for a convincing win when they clicked from the kickoff and sprinted to a lead limited only by flyhalf Stephen Brett's wayward goalkicking. They then appeared to relax and the Waratahs, in 13th place, stung them with a spectacular revival.
Replacement winger Sam Harris scored a 36th-minute try, Hewat converted and added a penalty and New South Wales went to half-time only seven points down at 22-15.
Hewat nudged over a further penalty in the second minute of the second half before flyhalf Sam Norton-Knight scored from a blatant forward pass in the 46th minute to give the Waratahs the lead.
The lead lasted only four minutes. Former All Blacks center Casey Laulala scored the Crusaders' fifth try and when Gear scored his second -- his sixth of the season -- Canterbury had taken a nine-point lead.
The Waratahs still weren't finish and Hewat's penalty and Polota-Nau's try brought them within a point. But Hewat's hurried conversion attempt cost them a late lead.
"I didn't realize what the score was at the end," said Crusaders and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. "I thought they were leading by a point and I couldn't figure why we had kicked the ball out."
The match was full of outstanding moments of individual and team play, an antidote to the poor standard of rugby in the Super 14 this season.
The Crusaders were typically skillful and unified, finding much more combination than last week when they regained their World Cup All Blacks for the first time.
The Waratahs also had moments of brilliance, most notably the 11th-minute try of 19-year-old winger Lachlan Turner who beat four men on a 60m dash to the line.
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