Waratahs and Rebels in Super playoff race

Darren Walton
NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson believes his side proved a point despite losing to the Crusaders

The NSW Waratahs believe they have proved a point against the New Zealand teams, despite losing control of the Australian conference with a gut-wrenching Super Rugby loss to the Crusaders.

The Melbourne Rebels' last-gasp 27-24 victory over the Brumbies in Canberra after NSW's controversial 31-29 loss in Christchurch on Saturday night cut the Waratahs' conference lead to just one point with six rounds remaining.

The two-team race to the finals is set to go down to the wire, especially if the Waratahs are unable to conjure a drought-breaking win over either the Highlanders in Sydney on Saturday or the Chiefs in Hamilton the following weekend.

The Rebels versus Waratahs showdown in round 17 - on June 29 - in Melbourne could well prove a winner-takes-all affair.

But the landscape would have looked completely different had Crusaders prop Joe Moody been sent off for his off-the-ball forearm to the throat of Waratahs star Kurtley Beale.

Moody is facing suspension after being charged with foul play, but Sunday's citing came too late to help the Waratahs.

Daryl Gibson's team led 29-0 at the time and would have spent the next 45 minutes playing against 14 men at AMI Stadium.

Instead, Moody backed up from taking Beale out to score the Crusaders' first try in the same play, sparking the defending champions to the biggest successful comeback in Super Rugby history.

The despairing defeat was the Waratahs' second straight narrow loss to a New Zealand team, having gone down 24-21 to the Blues a week earlier.

"It hurts just about as much as last week," Gibson said.

"A couple of decisions; they proved really costly - the elbow from Joe Moody which was missed.

"The yellow cards (to NSW pair Nick Phipps and Taqele Naiyaravoro). There were obviously a few things that didn't go our way.

"All the media is saying the Australian teams can't compete with the New Zealand teams, but we should have probably won those.

"We've got another two to go. We'll pick ourselves up."

The loss stretched New Zealand teams' streak of Super Rugby wins over their Australian rivals to 39 matches.

But the Waratahs, with the best record during the wretched run, having lost their matches to Kiwi counterparts by an average of 10 points, will take heart from the bonus-point near miss in Christchurch as they look to snap the sequence at home against the Highlanders.

The Brumbies have fallen 10 points adrift of the Waratahs and all but out of playoff contention after blowing a 24-10 second-half lead against the Rebels in front of a paltry crowd of 5283 in the national capital.

Queensland can also start planning for 2019 after a humiliating 63-28 loss to the last-placed Sunwolves in Tokyo left Brad Thorn's demoralised Reds nine points behind NSW and former Wallabies coach Alan Jones once again lamenting Australian rugby's sorry state of affairs.

"Well can it get any worse. This is crisis time," Jones tweeted.

"Japan 63 points against Queensland. NSW lead by 29 and lose. And no one at the Brumbies/ Rebels game. Will someone, anyone, at Rugby HQ take responsibility for this shambles!!!!"