Perhaps it was the swirling breeze from neighbouring Wollongong Beach, or the fact this was their first match abroad in more than a year.
But despite the 54-28 bonus-point win suggesting otherwise, the Crusaders were far from their best against the Waratahs in Wollongong.
“I think we got a bit loose at times trying to chase points and tries for this competition,” Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said after the match.
“We saw what the Waratahs did; they’ve got plenty of attacking flair and put a wee bit of points on us, which is a little bit disappointing.
“The boys are seeing what’s in front of them and playing so that’s encouraging, but we gave a lot of pill away – in the first half especially; seven turnovers – so there’s plenty of stuff for us to work on.”
The Crusaders made their intentions to play with the ball in their hands early, looking to run it out of their own 22 rather than play the territory game, and for good reason.
Working off the back of strong hit-ups from the forwards – Sione Havili Talitui in particular looking to run over the top of anyone who dared to get in his way – the Crusaders’ backline weapons struck. With the likes of Richie Mo’unga, Sevu Reece, Will Jordan and Leicester Fainga’anuku finding room to move, there was no shortage of speed to exploit the space in the Waratahs line.
Mitchell Drummond, Codie Taylor and Barrett were among the benefactors of full-field efforts from the Crusaders, sparked by chancing their arm deep in their own territory with moves that, at times, looked like they were at a training run.
But while the margin of victory suggests comfort, the Crusaders were tested by the Waratahs. Unlike their Kiwi counterparts, the Waratahs wanted to play for territory and try to pin the Crusaders in their own half. At times, this method had success as discipline and handling errors cost the Crusaders.
For much of the first half, the scores were tight, but whenever it appeared that the Waratahs were starting to make some inroads into the deficit, the Crusaders extended it.
Leading 26-9 at the break – scoring two of their three tries of the half between the 35th and 40th minutes – the Crusaders kicked on early in the second half with Barrett crossing just two minutes after the restart.
The Waratahs kicked back into gear after that, applying plenty of pressure to the Crusaders and eventually cracking the defence through winger Jack Maddocks. He was soon followed over by centre Izaia Perese to make the margin just 10 points with plenty of time to play.
That was as close as they got for the rest of the match, however, as the Crusaders ran in three more tries to put the match beyond doubt, though the Waratahs had the final say through winger Alex Newsome.
Discipline remains a glaring issue for the Crusaders, despite the big margin. On the wrong side of a 13-9 penalty count, the Crusaders have given away more penalties than their opponents in all three transtasman clashes and saw three players sent to the sin bin against the Waratahs.
Crusaders 54 (Mitchell Drummond, Codie Taylor, Sevu Reece, Dallas McLeod, Scott Barrett, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Bryn Hall, Will Jordan tries; Richie Mo’unga 7 cons)
Waratahs 28 (Jack Maddocks, Izaia Perese, Alex Newsome tries; Will Harrison 2 cons, 3 pens)
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