The Waratahs were within 15m of the Crusaders’ line from the 70th minute until the 83rd, but the champs did not crack and emerged with an epic 17-11 victory in their Vodacom Super 14 clash in Christchurch.
Those who have bemoaned the quality of rugby in the competition should be handed a tape of a masterful 80 minutes, and sent to a quiet room to practise the art of apologising.
A repeat of last year’s final was hyped, and what transpired was a game worthy of a final. The two leading sides in the competition reinforced why the smart money has to be on Sydney or Christchurch laying claim to the inaugural Vodacom Super 14.
Which of the two, however, is still debatable.
A halftime score of 14-3 seemed to answer the question, as the Saders delivered the near perfect 40. Both scores through Chris Jack and Leon MacDonald were works of art, but what was even more remarkable was the fact that Jonny Kaplan did not award the Crusaders a single penalty in the first half.
The Tahs conceded one in the second half, which Dan Carter banged over, but that was it. To triumph in the face of such incredible discipline is perhaps the most glowing tribute the Crusaders could receive.
Equally, it is a testament to the effort of the Tahs. The old cliche that it takes two teams for a great game of footy is applicable, and the Sydney side’s second half performance showed that they are a team genuinely capable of winning the tournament.
By shutting down their errors to virtually zero, the pressure applied was almost unbearable. Morgan Turinui’s try came packaged with a healthy dose of fortune, but in the context of the second half, it was deserved.
Masterful performances from Carter, Richie McCaw (who made 25 tackles in a demonic defensive display) and MacDonald aside, the Saders won this game through grit and composure. Camped on their line, they did not falter and everything the Tahs threw at them was repelled.
When the first scrum of the game comes after 16 minutes, the losing side only concedes a solitary penalty and arguably the world’s top back Carter and forward McCaw are firing, the recipe is for Test and not regional rugby.
The other 12 sides would have watched with envy, but they should be grateful. Eighty minutes of superb rugby later, and new life has been breathed into a tournament starting to go just a little stale.
Tries: Chris Jack and Leon MacDonald
Cons: Dan Carter 2
Try: Morgan Turinui
Pens: Peter Hewat 2
By Chris Hewitt
THE MOMENTS THAT MATTER
66 misn: Scotty Hamilton a few centimetres from scoring an epic. Great chip ahead and chase, he leaves Hewat sprawling but the ball just scrapes the line before he touches down, and the TMO rules not try.
58 mins: Tahs are resurgent in the second 40, and are rewarded with a penalty bang in front. Hewat takes the points. (Hewat 2/5)
49 mins: Tahs are overly robust at ruck time. Three easy points for Carter. (Carter 3/3)
46 mins: Tahs back in it! Hewat launches a seemingly harmless kick downfield, but a wicked bounce embarasses MacDonald and good chasing by Morgan Turinui is rewarded. Hewat misses the conversion. (Hewat 1/4)
39 mins: Corey Flynn is pinged for hands in the ruck, giving Hewat his third opportunity to put the Tahs on the board. This time he nails it. (Hewat 1/3)
34 mins: Saders on fire. It’s patience this time. From a 5m scrum, they go right and suck in defenders repeatedly by bashing it up. A change of direction is deadly, and a huge pass left from Carter has the outside backs lining up. It’s Leon MacDonald who scores it. Carter converts. (Carter 2/2)
28 mins: Reuben Thorne is pinged for breaking his bind at scrumtime early, and Hewat again steps up. It’s a shocker, the worst kick of his career. He scoops it and it’s miles short. (Hewat 0/2)
9 mins: Saders pinged at the ruck, Jonathan Kaplan’s decisions here could be crucial. Peter Hewat misses a difficult attempt. (Hewat 0/1)
6 mins: Awesome score by the champs. A frantic beginning sees the skills of both these sides exhibited, as the ball is spread and interchanged without one knock. The Saders are just that much more incisive, and fine angles by virtually the entire team in a multiphase movement stretches the Tahs enough for a switch on the wing to find Chris Jack with no-one in front of him. Carter converts. (Carter 1/1)
3 mins: Aaorn Mauger takes the gap brilliantly, steps and dummies and he’s clear. Well weighted kick ahead bobbles in-goal, and Peter Hewat just outsprints Dan Carter to dot down.