Susceptibility to foliar pathogens commonly causes significant reductions in productivity of the important temperate forage perennial ryegrass. Breeding for durable disease resistance involves not only the deployment of major genes but also the additive effects of minor genes. An approach based on in vitro single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) discovery in candidate defence response (DR) genes has been used to develop potential diagnostic genetic markers. SNPs were predicted, validated and mapped for representatives of the pathogenesis-related (PR) protein-encoding and reactive oxygen species (ROS)-generating gene classes. The F(1)(NA(6) x AU(6)) two-way pseudo-test cross population was used for SNP genetic mapping and detection of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) in response to a crown rust field infection. Novel resistance QTLs were coincident with mapped DR gene SNPs. QTLs on LG3 and LG7 also coincided with both herbage quality QTLs and candidate genes for lignin biosynthesis. Multiple DR gene SNP loci additionally co-located with QTLs for grey leaf spot, bacterial wilt and crown rust resistance from other published studies. Further functional validation of DR gene SNP loci using methods such as fine-mapping and association genetics will improve the efficiency of parental selection based on superior allele content.