Crusaders coach Robbie Deans admitted the Waratahs were a better team in 2006 than the one his Crusaders beat twice in 2005.
Come the May 27 final, it would not surprise Deans to see the Sydneysiders there, especially after they came so close to upstaging the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday.
The Tahs lost 17-11, but dominated the second half 8-3 and did everything but win the game.
It was the Crusaders toughest match of the campaign and Deans said as much.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Deans told the media. “They’ve broadened their game, they’ve brought grunt into their personnel, not only into the starting line-up but also to the bench. And they showed they can adapt where possibly we didn’t. We kept looking for the shortcut and they didn’t.”
A few seasons ago the Tahs lost 96-19 in Christchurch. And in last year’s final they were blown away in the opening 20 minutes. This team is different and despite trailing 14-0 after half an hour, they got stronger as the game progressed.
“We certainly went better this time than last time,” said Tahs coach Ewen McKenzie. “And the Crusaders were playing with all but two of last year’s [Super 12 final] team on the field. We had five new faces out there and we were reeling them in. Whether that will be enough on another occasion later in the year, I don’t know.”
The Tahs play host to the Brumbies next weekend, while the Crusaders host the Cheetahs.