First and foremost let me just say how happy I am that the Waratahs managed to go all the way. By winning this prestigious tournament in such an entertaining manner, I have no doubt they are changing the face of professional rugby.
Gone are the days of those senseless aerial battles and mind-numbing territorial tactics. May this victory ignite the start of a new age, an era of risk and thrill. Hopefully the time has come for all teams to realise that offence is indeed the best defence.
New South Wales made their intentions crystal clear from the get go in this final. They raced away to a 14-0 lead in as many minutes, knocking the wind out of their visitors with continuous waves of attack. Adam Ashley-Cooper scored the first try of the match a mere four minutes into proceedings and it was clear to all that the Waratahs weren’t going to deviate from their flamboyant playing style.
For a while it looked like the Crusaders’ cages were rattled beyond recovery and thoughts of a run away victory might have entered the minds of some. But never write off a team of that magnitude so easily. True to form the men from Canterbury pulled themselves together and Matt Todd rounded off a good break by captain Kieran Read with a touch down of their own.
More penalty goals were traded, and despite the fears of their struggles in the set pieces, the Tahs managed to hold the fort and with it a seven point lead when the first half came to a halt at 20-13 in favour of the hosts.
Whatever coach Todd Blackadder said to the Red and Blacks during their time in the changing room, it seemed to spark some life back into them. If anybody had notions of this being a one-sided affair, the Crusaders wasted no time in rectifying matters two minutes into the second half.
Some fantastic midfield interplay and a superb wide cut-out pass by Andy Ellis put Nemani Nadolo into acres of space and the burly flying machine needed not be invited to the try line twice. Whether or not his foot grazed the touchline might well be a talking point among some, but luckily it didn’t influence the result, so at this stage such a debate would be rather moot.
But the scores were even and suddenly momentum seemed to be swaying in favour of the Crusaders. Increasing amounts of pressure revealed more and more of the Waratahs’ soft underbelly, especially their scrum issues. On two occassions the Saders took edged ahead on the heels of front row infringements and with only twenty minutes left on the clock, even I started having my doubts. Maybe, just maybe the Tahs were running themselves out of gas.
Fortunately the Waratahs’ self-belief never dwindled and their persistence on the flanks finally paid dividends when Ashley-Cooper exploited a moment of weak defence to score his second try and reclaim the lead for the men in blue.
A bit of over-eagerness on defense caught the Tahs offside twice and Colin Slade made them pay for it on both occasions, causing the crowd favourites to trail by two points with only five minutes remaining.
Tempers were flaring on and off the field as the cliffhanger went this way and that. Many a moment was lost in those final minutes and with a little more than sixty seconds left, All Black captain Richie McCaw was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, giving sharp-shooting Bernard Foley one last chance to break the drought in Sydney.
The Waratahs flyhalf took aim and was the picture of calm even though I am convinced he practically suffered heart failure at that moment, especially considering that the distance to the posts were at the very edge of his range. With bated breath, the record-breaking crowd watched the ball sneak over the cross bar. And then everybody was on their feet as the Tahs received the kick-off, nervously wound down the clock and booted the ball into the stands.
It was all over. The New South Wales Waratahs had beaten the Crusaders 33-32. After eighty minutes of fantastic football it was third time lucky for the log winners, they finally had their hands on the coveted cup. We really do say this too often, but that was the best super final ever played.
Man of the Match – Adam Ashley-Cooper
By Jackie Smit