The Canterbury Crusaders suffered their first Super Rugby defeat in more than a year on Saturday, their desperation to put on good showing for the people of Christchurch perhaps contributing to their 20-12 loss to the New South Wales Waratahs.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson had said his side would be playing for the people of their city in their first outing since the deadly shootings but they were a shadow of their dominant best as their 19-match winning streak was snapped.
Fullback Israel Folau scored the last of the three Waratahs tries to match the career Super Rugby record of former All Blacks winger Doug Howlett but the home victory was built on cast iron defence.
On a day when Christchurch reopened the two mosques where 50 people were killed in the March 15 attacks and 3,000 paraded through the city in a “march for love”, their nine-times champion rugby team were expected to win relatively comfortably.
But, perhaps rusty after last Saturday’s match against the Otago Highlanders was cancelled in the wake of the shootings, or perhaps because of the emotion of the week, the Crusaders succumbed to a rare defeat amid a flurry of errors.
“We were really desperate to play well and represent our people and show how much we care,” Robinson said.
“You can see how hard we worked but we dropped enough ball for the whole season out there.
“It was a tough week, but we’re Crusaders, we don’t make excuses. We just needed to be better in a lot of parts of the game tonight.”
Thoughts of the shootings were never going to be far from the surface at the Sydney Cricket Ground and the teams stood arm-in-arm in a circle on the pitch for a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the attacks before kickoff.
"It was really neat," said Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson, a Christchurch native and former Crusaders player.
“It transcends sport. Put that to the side and really think of others in far worse situations. It was a really nice touch tonight.”
Gibson's Waratahs side had given up a 29-0 lead to lose 31-29 in the corresponding fixture last year so even when tries from lock Jed Holloway and winger Cam Clark put them 12-0 up after 11 minutes, there was plenty of caution around the SCG.
Defensive lapses from the Crusaders helped with Holloway running straight through the tackle of Jordan Taufua for the first and Folau leaping above a host of New Zealanders to claim a high kick and send Clark away for the second.
The Crusaders were under pressure in the set piece and struggling to hold onto the ball in greasy conditions with George Bridge’s 29th-minute try their first real chance to cross the home line.
It was a bit fortuitous too, with the inside pass that set the winger on his way looking suspiciously forward.
Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley completed the first-half scoring with a penalty after 39 minutes but Mitch Hunt, kicking instead of rested Crusaders pivot Richie Mo'unga, missed the next attempt at goal 17 minutes after the break.
The Crusaders kept plugging away but the passes that usually fell to hand did not, and the Waratahs pack kept to at least parity in the fierce battles at the breakdown.
With six minutes to go and the referee playing advantage, Foley sent up a superb crosskick which winger Alex Newsome tapped back to leave Folau the simplest of touch downs for his record-equalling 59th five-pointer.
Substitute back Will Jordan scored a late consolation with a fine solo effort for the Crusaders, a name the most successful franchise in Super Rugby history may not keep for much longer.
Chief executive Colin Mansbridge said last Sunday they were open to initiating discussions about a change because of its associations with the medieval religious wars between Christians and Muslims.