How good was that? The tension, the drama, the atmosphere!
Photos by Keith McInnes
It was a super rugby grand final for the ages and a game I know I will never forget. Here are a few thoughts from the game last night:
Oh yeah baby! 2014 was OUR YEAR! Michael Cheika you are a bloody legend! Michael Hooper you are a bloody legend! Cliffy Palu you are a bloody legend! We scored tries, made big hits and WON THE TITLE. OHHHH YEEEAAAAHHHH.
OK so I think I’ve got that out of my system. Sorry. It has been building up for a few years now.
2. What a game
But seriously, that was a great advertisement for rugby right when we needed it. It was just as good as the 2011 Super rugby grand final- a close contest between two sides willing to take risks, with plenty of on-your-feet moments culminating in a thrilling finish. Let’s hope it can reinvigorate rugby in NSW like the Link-era Reds did for rugby in Queensland. You could feel the atmosphere through the TV, see the colour, hear the noise.
The Crusaders were incredible, just as we all expected. The bastards just never knew when to lie down, and ended up a bee’s proverbial away from the title. What a bunch of champions. But unfortunately for them there could only be one winner, and like 2011 it ended with the right team holding up the trophy.
3. Key play of the game
Last week it was Michael Hooper’s desperation tackle on Jesse Mogg, which almost certainly stopped a try. This week it was similar: Nick Phipps’ last line covering tackle on Nemani Nadolo in the 75th minute. The biggest man on the field running at the smallest man, with the title on the line. And the little guy won… just! Phipps cover defence has been crucial to the Tahs success this season and it is only fitting that the game was saved by one of his trademark grasscutter tackles.
4. The final penalty…
… was marginal. Richie was probably in from the side but it was far from obvious and Joubert had been largely ignoring entry for most of the preceding 78 minutes (which definitely favoured the Tahs). BUT Richie was a little bit off the pace all night and this was a key example of that. Back in his prime Richie could give away penalties with the best of them, but he did it in a smart way. He’d pick the right time and more importantly the right place to push the boundaries.
Last night in the closing minutes he did neither. He decided to have a crack in the 78th minute on the 40m line right in front of the sticks. If the ruck was on the sideline it would be a different story. But it was within Foley’s range and he duly converted… just.
5. Key players
It was only fitting that the players who led the Tahs last night were the same ones who have been doing it all season- Wycliff Palu, Hooper, Phipps, Foley, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale. Palu was immense, and is playing the best rugby of his career, showing us the player we all knew he could be. My fandom of his has now turned into something much more serious- the man is a beast!
AAC was just outstanding as well, with Foley the conductor of the band, a man who has developed his long passing game to the point where it is starting to resemble that of his northern counterpart.
For the Crusaders it was a real ensemble effort but Colin Slade, Matt Todd, Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock were my picks. Thank the lord that Nadolo plays for Fiji and not the All Blacks, that bloke is scary good, and stepped up again tonight. And why did Todd Blackadder take off Andy Ellis? Another standout player who has plenty of class, and with a fair gulf to his replacement I would have left him on for the full 80.
6. History repeating
Wasn’t the step and fend for AAC’s second try the exact same one he used to score against the Lions in Melbourne last year? Worth looking that one up, actually.
Also it is interesting to note the last time the Waratahs beat the Crusaders in Sydney was back in 2003 when Shaun Berne kicked a penalty from long range that juuuuust made it over. The final score? 34-31 Tahs.
7. Wallaby ramifications
I mentioned on the podcast this week that the most important player in Aussie rugby was now TPN, as our hooker depth beyond him is worse than in any other position. Well I must apologise to everyone as I put the mockers on the poor bloke, and his injury looked pretty serious. Let’s all hope it is OK, but Nathan Charles may be in for a big couple of months if it isn’t.
And has Nick Phipps now done enough to win the Wallaby 9 jersey? That was a big performance in a big game. He was dealing with messy ruck ball and fought off half the AB forward pack to get the ball away every time… and did a bloody good job. I am starting to come around, but certainly wouldn’t be worried if Nic White got the nod.
8. Finals footy
Don’t you wish the World Cup final was played like that? The game was plenty physical but in the last minutes both sides were still attacking the wide channels in order to make ground. The notion that finals footy should be all about slog, graft and inches around the ruck is dispelled year after year in Super Rugby, but for whatever reason has never really translated to internationals. Link’s attitude to rugby is very similar to Michael Cheika’s, so I would love nothing more than to see the Wallabies knock off the Kiwis in the Final next year in similar style.
9. The performance of Joubert
The Kiwis I know were a little bit annoyed with Craig Joubert’s performance, but I thought it was OK. He did let the Tahs get away with a bit at ruck time, and both sides abused the offside line constantly. But overall he did as he always does, getting out of the way and letting the game flow, with both sides given free license to attack from everywhere. There were no horrible decisions and the best team on the night won… though George Ayoub may not have slept so well last night given his call on Nadolo’s try- that was out for sure!
I have been supporting the Tahs all my life, and attending games since I was 10. I have been to almost every home game for the last five years. I was there with 11,000 others when they lost to the Cheetahs in 2011… but I wasn’t there last night.
I couldn’t help feeling a bit frustrated as I watched 60,000 of my fellow rugby fans live the moment that I had dreamed about for all those years. Yes I am currently traveling in London (an opportunity many would love) and I had fun watching with a group of friends at a local bar, our jubilant screaming attracting the attention of bemused passers-by on their morning walks. But in the end it just wasn’t the same, and it was made worse by the photos and videos posted after the match on Facebook and Twitter. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for people watching alone in different corners of the globe, worried about waking the family in the early hours of the morning!
There is a temptation in this moment to go on a long rant, shoving it up the various clowns who have come on here and sullied my columns over the years with idiotic Tah-hate (I am talking about the dickheads here, not guys that have offered fair criticism).
But now is not the time for that. This was a great win for NSW and Australian rugby. It gives the game a big shot in the arm in a crucial market. We are all winners this weekend, even the guys who have railed against the Tahs for so many years. But especially the other 10,999 guys that were with me that fateful night against the fucking Cheetahs.
Now we have some closure.