Super Rugby Pacific: All Blacks double injury concerns threaten to overshadow Crusaders' routine win over NSW Waratahs

The Crusaders' bonus point victory over NSW Waratahs could have come at a worrying cost, with All Blacks pair Cullen Grace and David Havili both leaving the field with injury concerns.

After spending the early part of 2023 on the sidelines with a collarbone injury, No.8 Grace left the field early in the first half and didn't return, while Havili limped off in the second.

Already amid a front-row injury crisis that saw 39-year-old former All Blacks prop John Afoa drafted in for his debut, more wounded players would be a huge setback for the Crusaders with only one game to go until the playoffs.

Cullen Grace treated for injury.
Cullen Grace treated for injury. Photo credit: Getty Images

The bonus point win moves the Crusaders to within three points of the Chiefs at the top of the table, but strengthens the defending champions' aspirations of a home semi-final.

The Waratahs meanwhile see their four-game winning streak ended, but still sit sixth qualified for the playoffs, unable to be caught by either the Reds or Highlanders in the final week of the regular season. 

While the Waratahs took the lead by dominating possession and territory inside the opening minutes, the Sydney outfit were no match for the Crusaders once they found their rhythm.

A quick break saw David Havili sent over for the first try, but the Crusaders' cause was hampered by another injury blow to No.8 Cullen Grace, as the All Blacks hopeful left the game with what appeared to be a knee injury. 

Even losing Leicester Fainga'anuku to the sin bin didn't hurt the Crusaders, who outscored the Waratahs with 14 men. 

While the Waratahs scored their first try through captain Jake Gordon, who went blind from a lineout, only for the Crusaders to completely twist the knife to end the opening 40 minutes.

Captain Codie Taylor crossed over for another lineout drive score, while Richie Mo'unga selflessly put Mitchell Drummond in - getting the last pass away from behind the Waratahs' tryline.

The Waratahs were reduced to 14 when centre Joey Walton was shown a yellow card at the end of the first half for cynical play, before the Crusaders scored again as Fergus Burke spun out of a tackle to send his side into the break 28-8 ahead.

While the second half saw scoring dry up for the opening 20 minutes, the Waratahs did score first again when winger Dylan Pietcsch went over in the corner to cut the Crusaders' lead to 15 points.

However, the Crusaders responded immediately, as Leicester Fainga'anuku sent Mo'unga in for the hosts' fifth try of the evening.

One last Waratahs try, through replacement prop Nephi Leatigaga threatened to rob the Crusaders of a bonus point, only for reserve loose forward Sione Havili Talitui - who took Grace's place after the early injury - to complete the scoring minutes from fulltime.

The Crusaders will finish their regular season against the Hurricanes in Wellington next week, while the Waratahs return to Sydney to host the winless Moana Pasifika. 

Crusaders 42 (Havili, Taylor, Drummond, Burke, Mo'unga, Havili-Talitui tries; Mo'unga 6 conversions)

NSW Waratahs 18 (Gordon, Pietsch, Leatigaga tries; Donaldson conversion)