The Waratahs produced a stunning display of disciplined defence and struck when it matters to move into the final of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament with a comprehensive 26-8 win over the Brumbies in Sydney.
The victory was the Waratahs ninth in a row and eighth at home which allowed them to host next weekend’s final against the Crusaders.
But on a night where it was expected that the competition’s top attacking team would win through, Michael Cheika’s side needed a disciplined and dominant defensive performance to outgun the Brumbies, before breaking the shackles near the end to run away with the win.
It has to be asked how the Brumbies decided to go into the game without a recognised goalkicker, as they squandered several kicking penalties and Christian Lealiifano missed a few others as well that might have made the game a closer affair.
But for the most of the middle part of the game it was all the visitors who pressed hard but got little reward for their efforts as they had the Waratahs on the rack.
Yet like a boxer, they couldn’t land the knockout blow, despite dominating both territorial and possession stats, with the Waratahs needing to dig deep on defence to win ugly in the end.
The Waratahs were never behind, but at times never looked totally in control until the final moments of the game, where a late try to Bernard Foley made the game look a lot more lop-sided.
It was the perfect start for the home team, as they grabbed an early try when a Brumbies pass dropped perfectly at the feet of winger Alofa Alofa, who snapped it up and ran 60 metres to score.
Foley added a penalty for an 8-0 lead, but then the momentum swung as the Brumbies found their feet and spent long periods inside the Waratahs half. After turning down three kickable penalties, the Brumbies’ patience paid off as Fijian import Henry Speight got the ball in space and finished like a pro.
Lealiifano added a penalty on the stroke of halftime to even up the scores but Foley took the Waratahs ahead again with a penalty that ended the half 11-8 in the favour of the Waratahs.
Fullback Jesse Mogg, who was having a nightmare having already been driven backwards in embarrassing fashion in a big hit by Michael Hooper, made a mistake that cost his side as he recovered a ball, but watched in horror as Kurtley Beale ripped it from him, twisted and suddenly had an open tryline in front of him to extend the lead.
The Brumbies tried to hit back but knocked on the ball twice in front of the Waratahs goalline, continually turning down kickable penalties to go for the try, and then watched as Robbie Coleman lost the ball with an open tryline in front of him.
In the meanwhile the Waratahs dug deep, tackled like demons and when they got the chance, simply played the percentages with Foley adding another penalty.
With the clock ticking down, the introduction of Will Skelton was a masterstroke, with the bullocking Samoan making inroads every time he got the ball, before setting up the final blow with a run where he bounced off three defenders before stumbling forward to deliver a pinpoint pass to Foley who sprinted over for the telling try.
A late yellow card might have briefly soured matters for the Waratahs, but it wasn’t to stop the celebrations of the Sydney side reaching their third final, with the other two both ironically being lost against the same Crusaders side they will face next week.
The game, at the 83000 seater ANZ stadium, is set to be Super Rugby’s largest crowd ever for a final, eclipsing the 54000 for the 2007 Sharks-Bulls final in Durban.
Waratahs – Tries:Alofa Alofa, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley. Conversions:Bernard Foley. Penalties:Bernard Foley(2).
Brumbies – Try:Henry Speight. Conversions:. Penalties: Christian Lealiifano.