NSW lamented miss tackles and kicks for goal after a Crusaders side, featuring Super rugby debutant Sonny Bill Williams, scored a 33-18 win over the Waratahs on an emotional night in Nelson on Friday.
The previously unbeaten Waratahs led 13-6 but conceded 27 unanswered points, 20 of them in a 15 minute period straddling halftime.
NSW coach Chris Hickey was left to reflect on what might have been as his men failed to build on early tries to centre Tom Carter and impressive halfback Luke Burgess.
He gave his team credit for not giving up in the second half, but felt they had gifted The Crusaders all of their tries.
Both teams scored three tries, but the Crusaders were markedly superior in the goalkicking department as well as the scrum and breakdown contests.
NSW five-eighth Daniel Halangahu missed all three of his kicks and fullback Kurtley Beale one out of two, while metronomic Crusaders five-eight Daniel Carter landed all seven of his attempts.
“Goalkicking was obviously a big difference between the two sides and we had some points on offer that we didn’t take,” Hickey told AAP by telephone from New Zealand.
“In that period of time before halftime, we just didn’t do the fundamentals well and fell off some one-on-one tackles and they are a good side and they will punish you for those sort of mistakes.”
The Crusaders rallied after a scratchy start to provide their crisis-hit region with some much needed joy.
The match, switched from Christchurch following the earthquake that devastated that city, was also a tribute to the 29 miners who died in the Pike River disaster last year.
“We hope we put a wee smile on some people’s faces,” Crusaders skipper and No.8 Kieran Read said.
Injuries to hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau (knee) and centre Rob Horne (knee) compounded the Waratahs’ woes but they have a bye next round.
Hickey said both men were likely to undergo scans on Monday.
“Tatafu hyper extended his knee, so we’re not exactly sure it, could be as mild as bone bruising,” Hickey said.
“Robbie Horne caught his elbow in an awkward position and stretched it a bit and that was the elbow he had operated on, so I guess we thought it was the better part of discretion to take him off at that stage.”
Williams, who had already represented the All Blacks, threw some wild passes early on before featuring with centre partner Robbie halftime in the Crusaders revival.
Former Bulldogs league star Williams crossed just after halftime, having set up Fruean’s second five-pointer after his first came from an intercept.
Replacement back Afa Pakalini notched a late try for NSW, while winger Drew Mitchell came close to scoring a bonus-point fourth try near the end.