The Waratahs' Israel Folau flies high against the Crusaders at Christchurch's AMI Stadium on Saturday.
The Waratahs' Israel Folau flies high against the Crusaders at Christchurch's AMI Stadium on Saturday. Kai Schwoerer

Waratahs downed by two points after leading by 29

THE Crusaders have produced the biggest comeback in Super Rugby history to consign the NSW Waratahs to a heartbreaking 31-29 loss to the table-topping defending champions.

The Waratahs led 29-0 after as many minutes following a dream start at AMI Stadium, only to concede five unanswered tries to fall painfully short in their bold bid to end a 14-year winless drought in Christchurch.

The Crusaders' epic escape also extended New Zealand teams' winning streak over Australian opposition to 39 matches since the Waratahs beat the Chiefs in Sydney in May of 2016.

Waratahs five-eighth Bernard Foley had the chance to snatch victory late but missed a second long-range penalty attempt from 40m out - but in front - to leave Australia's conference leaders with only a bonus point for their gallant effort.

Ultimately, the Waratahs paid the price for their ill-discipline - yellow cards for halfback Nick Phipps and winger Taqele Naiyaravoro either side of half-time left the visitors a man down for 20 minutes of the dramatic match.

The Waratahs had arrived across the Tasman on Friday to find a protester confronting Israel Folau for his controversial online posts about homosexuality.

But it clearly didn't rattle the superstar fullback as he delivered a blinding first-half display that silenced the shell-shocked home crowd until the Crusaders began to mount their incredible revival.

After being under the pump early, Waratahs winger Cam Clark bagged the first try after a superb counter-attack sparked by Foley.

Using an effective driving maul and bustling the Crusaders into errors, the Waratahs continued to pressure the champions.

Foley's failure to find touch from a penalty threatened to bring an end to their promising start, before Taqele Naiyaravoro intercepted Tim Bateman's probing long ball and raced 40m to give the visitors a shock 15-0 lead.

"The Waratahs are here to play," noted Crusaders coach Scott Robertson during mid-match commentary.

At the 24-minute mark it was 22-0 after Folau started and finished his own spectacular try by soaring high in contact to retrieve a Crusaders bomb and, combining with Kurtley Beale, complete a 75m effort.

When Folau won another aerial contest to set up NSW's fourth try through Curtis Rona, the Waratahs were flying.

But the Crusaders turned the helter-skelter match with three quickfire five-pointers of their own through Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and a coach killer to Seta Tamanivalu four minutes after the half-time buzzer, following Phipps' dismissal, to cut the deficit to 29-19.

While they survived the remainder of Phipps' time in the sin bin without further scoreline damage, the Waratahs paid again for Naiyaravoro leaving his team short for 10 minutes after a deliberate knock down, with Braydon Ennor crossing out wide for the Crusaders' fourth try.

The champions finally hit the front in the 68th minute with a penalty try following repeated NSW scrum infringements on their own line.


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