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By Waratahs Rugby Media Unit
NSW Waratahs 33 - Crusaders 32
Asteron Life Super Rugby Final - ANZ Stadium, Sydney
After 19 long years, it came down to the very last minute of the 2014 final for the NSW Waratahs to secure their maiden Super Rugby title. In front of 61,823 fans at ANZ Stadium – the largest Super Rugby crowd of all time – flyhalf Bernard Foley slotted a long-range penalty goal to win an historic final by the closest of margins.
Man of the Match Adam-Ashley Cooper crossed for two deserved tries, but it was Foley’s boot that proved the difference in a nail-biting encounter. The flyhalf was cool under pressure with 23 points, including the decisive final goal from 45m out.
NSW Captain Michael Hooper heaped praise on all members of his squad, past and present, for their contribution to an historic win built on multiple seasons of hard work.
“It's a weird feeling. There are a lot of things gone into that; a lot of people who have toiled in the Waratahs jersey for years. I’m really proud they were able to be part of that tonight,” Hooper said.
Head Coach Michael Cheika was elated with the character of his side, and was quick to praise the record 61,823 fans that packed into ANZ Stadium and were vocal throughout the game.
“Hearing the NSW chant definitely made a huge difference... the team obviously feeds off that energy and certainly at the end there that’s what got us over the line... We weren't scared to take responsibility. I liked that.”
And although the win caps off a remarkable 2014 season, Cheika was keen to carry his side’s irresistible form and strong work ethic into their 2015 campaign.
“We want to play our way, lay this identity down and let our supporters enjoy that. We want to lay the foundation. I'm looking for honesty; honesty every week, year upon year,” Cheika said.
The Tahs were off to a cracking start, when good pressure from the restart forced halfback Andy Ellis to shank his clearance into touch. The home side pounced, with Foley darting down the right and forcing the Crusaders into their first penalty. Foley waved for the kicking tee, and gave the home side the opening points on the three-minute mark.
Moments later, a beautiful long ball from Kurtley Beale found Foley in space on the left hand side, and opened up acres of space on the right. It was Beale again pulling the strings during the next phase, delivering a crisp flat ball to the flying Adam-Ashley Cooper, who went over for an historic opening try.
Foley couldn’t add the extras, but the ruthless Tahs were out for more points. Jacques Potgieter dislodged the ball in a ferocious tackle on Richie McCaw, and the Crusaders were again under the pump. This time it was Sam Whitelock who buckled under the pressure, sticking his foot out in the ruck and slowing the Waratahs’ ball. Foley stepped up from 40 metres out to add his second penalty goal of the night, and the Tahs had 11 points in as many minutes.
More brutal defence from Rob Horne and Wycliff Palu forced the shell-shocked Crusaders into error, and Ellis went off his feet at ruck time. Foley kept the scoreboard ticking over, helping himself to his third penalty of the night on the 15-minute mark.
However the seven-time champions regained their composure to claw their way back into the encounter. Phipps booted a loose ball out of the danger zone, but the Crusaders had men back and a platform to show their class on the counter-attack. No. 8 Kieran Read attracted two chasers and then produced a beautiful offload to Matt Todd, who stepped inside the sweeping cover defence to dot down for the Kiwi side’s first points.
Silky footwork from Horne had the Waratahs back in attacking range soon after, and the Crusaders stuck a hand into the ruck to give Foley another shot at goal. The flyhalf made no mistake, again taking the Waratahs beyond a converted try midway through the half.
And then, in a cruel blow for the visitors, All Black Dan Carter limped off with a knee injury on the half hour mark. Determined to offset his loss, stand-in kicker Colin Slade added two penalty goals and the Crusaders were back within striking range.
Moments before the half time siren came another history-making moment. Flyhalf Bernard Foley nailed his fifth penalty goal and, with it, overtook Peter Hewat’s all-time NSW record (set in 2005) of 243 points in a calendar year.
The Crusaders were first out of the blocks in the second half, with some beautiful continuity seeing the ball go through six sets of Crusaders’ hands to find the big Nemani Nadolo in space out wide. Sprinting 40m down field, the powerful winger was met by Kurtley Beale at the line, but the courageous centre couldn’t pull Nadolo into touch, and the Crusaders were back at level pegging.
Successive scrum penalties had the home side on the back foot, and Colin Slade kicked the second one through the posts and sent the visitors into the lead for the first time on the 50-minute mark.
Two minutes later, Foley had a chance to level the scores when Nadolo collected Alofa Alofa with a swinging arm to the chin. The flyhalf couldn’t convert, but was given a second chance in the next minute of play when serial offender Richie McCaw was caught offside at ruck time. He made no mistake from in front, and the scores were locked at 23-all.
The Tahs looked to hit back from the kickoff, when Hooper burst through the middle, setting up an attacking lineout only fifteen metres out. Although that chance went begging, the Tahs made their next one count.
The dangerous Foley brushed off a tackle and made a half break in the middle of the 22. And in a carbon copy of their fifth-minute combination, Beale found Ashley-Cooper for the outside centre’s second try of the encounter. Foley nailed the conversion, and the crowd could sense the Tahs were on the verge of something big.
Down but not out, Nadolo came off his wing and burst through the tight defensive channel, setting up a penalty shot from in front for Slade. The ball sailed through, setting up a nerve wracking finish, with the Tahs hanging onto a slender one point lead with 12 minutes to go.
Nadolo’s huge frame continued to cause headaches on the left wing, as he shrugged off a Tahs defender to gallop into space on the left. A match-saving lunge from outstanding scrumhalf Nick Phipps pulled the winger down by the bootlaces metres out, but the defence rushed up on the next phase and Slade had an easy penalty attempt from in front. With only four minutes to go, the Crusaders hit a 32-30 lead.
But spurred on by the record Sydney crowd, the Waratahs lifted when it counted. Making their way slowly into the attacking half, the Tahs’ patient attack tempted the Crusaders into error. It was Richie McCaw who took the bait, entering a ruck from an offside position 45m out from the posts.
Foley stepped up, and the rest is history.
NSW Waratahs 33 (tries: Adam Ashley-Cooper 2; cons: Foley; pens: Foley 7) def Crusaders 32 (tries: Todd, Nadolo; cons: Carter, Slade; pens: Slade 6)
NSW Waratahs: 1. Benn Robinson (Eastwood), 2.Tatafu Polota Nau (Parramatta), 3. Sekope Kepu (Randwick), 4. Jacques Potgieter (Eastern Suburbs), 5. Kane Douglas (Southern Districts), 6. Stephen Hoiles (Randwick), 7. Michael Hooper (Manly, captain), 8. Wycliff Palu (Manly), 9. Nick Phipps (Sydney University), 10. Bernard Foley (Sydney University), 11. Rob Horne (Southern Districts), 12. Kurtley Beale (Randwick), 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Northern Suburbs), 14. Alofa Alofa (West Harbour), 15. Israel Folau (Sydney University).
Replacements: 16. Tolu Latu (Sydney University), 17. Jeremy Tilse (Sydney University), 18. Paddy Ryan (Sydney University), 19. Will Skelton (Sydney University), 20. Mitchell Chapman (Eastern Suburbs), 21. Pat McCutcheon (Sydney University), 22. Brendan McKibbin (Eastern Suburbs), 23. Peter Betham (Sydney University).
Crusaders: 1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Corey Flynn, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Dominic Bird, 5. Samuel Whitelock, 6. Richie McCaw, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Kieran Read (captain), 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Colin Slade, 11. Nemani Nadolo, 12. Dan Carter, 13. Ryan Crotty, 14. Kieron Fonotia, 15. Israel Dagg.
Replacements: 16. Ben Funnell , 17. Joe Moody, 18. Nepo Laulala, 19. Jimmy Tupou, 20. Jordan Taufua, 21. Willi Heinz, 22. Tom Taylor, 23. Johnny McNicholl.
Referee: Craig Joubert (RSA)
Half-time: NSW Waratahs 20 – Crusaders 13
Yellow cards: None
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Northern Suburbs will be out to defend their 2016 premiership title while the Warringah Rats will be determined to secure their first victory since 2005 in Saturday’s Shute Shield Grand Final to be played at North Sydney Oval.