“You weren’t the tackler”, insisted Craig Joubert.
This was billed as the “Super Rugby Final”, and it most definitely was exactly that. And while no one moment could ever define the match, one moment certainly decided it.
Of course Richie McCaw will have everyone in the greater Christchurch area and beyond fully behind him in questioning the call that led Craig Joubert, who whether deserved or not has a bit of a reputation as being a “homer” ref, to give Waratah out-half Bernard Foley the opportunity to clinch the first ever title for the Aussie franchise.
But for the rest of us, the decision was as sweet as sweet can be. Too many times we have choked down the sour grapes fed to us by a seemingly infinite amount of breakdowns where McCaw has appeared to be invisible to officials.
Now…was this particular call 100% correct? Meh, I wouldn’t go that far. But was the victory 100% deserved for the Waratahs? You bet your bottom Aussie dollar it was.
Plus there’s the fact that the Crusaders themselves had benefitted from a decision here (namely the “try” by Nadolo” who although seemed in real time to have scored, by the replay he clearly had his foot on the line before touching down) and a non-decision there (namely a second penalty for an illegal foot in the ruck which IMO should have coaxed the yellow from Joubert’s pocket at a key time in the second half).
Of course there was a lot more to this contest than that one decision so best not harp on about it too much more. In a scintillating 80 minutes these two great sides scored two tries each and landed eight kicks each. What proved to be the difference in the end was the fact that the Tahs had one more kick worth three points than their opposition.
This Leinster & Ireland blogger had many ways to identify with the 2014 Waratahs going into the match…there was Michael Cheika at the helm, RDS-bound Kane Douglas starting at lock, and there’s even a link going back to 2003, the last time they defeated the Crusaders as the winning kick was provided by none other than Shaun Berne.
But then we saw the home side jump out to an early lead…and though it was by “only” 14 points, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that fateful day last November with so many All Blacks on the park, particularly last-gasp try scorer Ryan Crotty, though losing Dan Carter early won’t have helped their cause.
And the ironic thing about that early Tahs lead was that it was achieved with much success at both scrum and lineout, areas where every expert on matters Super Rugby thought they would struggle. Still though, when the two sides went in at half time with the margin at just seven (and had even been cut to four at one point), it was clear the contest was far from over.
Then came the controversial Nadolo score shortly after the break and the scores were level. Seeing the the lead evaporate in this fashion was visibly frustrating for both Cheika in the coaches’ box and the players on the field and suddenly the Tahs’ set-pieces began to revert to type, with lineouts going awry on their own throw and the Crusaders pack gaining the upper hand at scrum time.
Still though, the awesome Waratahs back line always seemed to have a try in them given the right circumstances, and showing up for his second 5-pointer on the night at the 62nd minute was man-of-the-match Adam Ashley-Cooper, as he celebrated in style after key contributions from Hooper, Phipps and Skelton along the way.
When Foley added the extra 2 to made it 30-26 to the home side, it seemed like they were going to be able to hold on but then poor discipline started to creep in and with the Crusaders refusing to give up Colin Slade added a couple of penalties to nick a small lead back before the dramatic McCaw decision right at the end.
But one thing I don’t mention about that final penalty was that despite being right in front, Foley still had to get it between the uprights and over the posts and according to the FoxSports commentary team it was right at the very limits of his range. What incredible mental strength he showed to nail it.
I’m pretty sure Michael Cheika wasn’t too bothered about the one-point margin at the Stoop that put Leinster on the way to our 2009 triumph, and I very much doubt he has lost any sleep over the one-point margin from last Saturday. The fact remains that he is the first coach to triumph in both hemispheres and this has to seriously bump up his value.
As for Kane Douglas, well the fact that the Tahs chose a long throw to him in their first attacking line-out showing the faith they have in him, and although he did cough up a sloppy penalty with a lineout jump later on he can definitely be proud of his overall contribution to this historic victory for New South Wales rugby and there is definitely a major role for him to play at Leinster.
Down in the southern hemisphere attention now turns towards the Rugby Championship and what a match there is to kick it off next week as Bledisloe Cup I takes place, once again in Sydney. No doubt the All Blacks will have revenge on their minds but if ever there was a year when you’d fancy the Wallabies to put one over on their rivals, it’s this one.
Meanwhile back up here in the north we of course have the Irish ladies still to cheer on and with Leinster’s new European jersey launched today it’s a reminder that the new season is only around the corner. Many thanks to Super Rugby for some exciting action over the past month or two but you probably don’t need me to tell you that I can’t wait to be back doing my more detailed writeups for the boys in blue slightly closer to home! JLP
published August 5, 2014