Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock praised his team's character in coming from behind to beat the Waratahs. Photo: Jeremy Ng/EPA

CHRISTCHURCH – The Crusaders regained the Super Rugby lead with a powerful rally to go from four tries down to beat the Waratahs 31-29 on Saturday.

The Crusaders conceded 29 points inside the first half hour in the clash between the top New Zealand and Australian sides before they worked out how to cut Israel Folau out of the game, and from there, they produced five tries to snatch a narrow victory.

Folau was exceptional for the Waratahs in the opening stages of their match, whether beating the Crusaders in the air or creating space, and scored two of their first four tries.

But once the defending champions learned how to starve Folau of possession, they came back with three tries in the closing eight minutes of the first half.

They added two more in the second spell, while the Waratahs were punished for ill-discipline and spent nearly 20 minutes down a man, with Nick Phipps and Taqele Naiyaravoro serving time in the sin bin.

Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said it was obvious their opening game plan did not work, and they were not panicked by the Waratahs’ strong start.

“We gave them the ball back early, and they really punished us because of it. Once we chopped that, it started to turn in our favour,” Whitelock said.

“But we were nice and calm out there. We stuck to what we knew would work, and came over the top at the end.”

Waratahs captain Michael Hooper said his side had only themselves to blame.

“Probably our discipline hurt us. Two yellow cards. It’s hard to beat these guys with 14 men,” he said.