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Mehrtens: Nothing has changed at the test level

ANDREW MEHRTENS
Last updated 05:00 05/08/2014
Adam Ashley-Cooper
Getty Images

TRUE BLUE: Adam Ashley-Cooper crashes over to score for the Waratahs at ANZ Stadium last Saturday night.

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OPINION: Let me kick things off by setting the record straight around the Waratahs' Super Rugby triumph over the Crusaders. There were no mixed emotions on my behalf.

I was just gutted.

That was my sole emotion at the end of a pulsating final. At the start I felt horrified and shell-shocked when the Tahs got off to that flier, and later I was excited and proud that my old team not only battled back, but put themselves in a position to win it.

But in the end there was just a deep pit in my stomach after it came down to that contentious call, and their great comeback ultimately came up short.

There's been a bit made of my role with the Waratahs, and in particular with how I helped kicker Bernard Foley undo the Crusaders. That's drawing a bit of a long bow.

Yes, I helped the Waratahs out with some specialist kicking advice, and yes, Foley had been one of the guys I'd worked closely with. But over the entire season I did maybe 10 sessions, and it was solely work with the kickers. I never talked tactics with them.

I knew Michael Cheika and go way back with Daryl Gibson and figured it would be a good culture, and it would be nice to be involved as we're living in Sydney. Heck, they didn't even have a game scheduled against the Crusaders this season.

I was glad Foley did well because I'd worked with him, but certainly not that it was at the expense of the Crusaders. I'm not sure I added anything special anyway to what was already a pretty capable striker of the ball.

But rest assured- he's a good guy. I saw him after the game and, incredibly, he came over and said, "I'm sorry, I know you'll be hurting for the Crusaders". He was right.

There's been a bit of finger-pointing around where the Crusaders came up short. For me it was a collective thing.

Collectively they fell down on defence, especially early on when they seemed stunned by the speed, intensity and execution of the Waratahs.

Dan Carter had said beforehand they needed a good start and to stay connected on defence. They got neither. They came out of the line, seemed unsure who they were marking, and Adam Ashley-Cooper just ran hard and straight to score that first try.

It was notable that it was off counter-attack, from long range, that the Crusaders struck back. That's when they're at their best. Sometimes they seem a little pre-planned through phase play.

The one thing I'd identify on the Crusaders' defensive system is they sometimes don't keep pushing up inside once the ball has gone wide. That leaves them vulnerable on the cutback, and it hurt them at least once in the final.

Some people have jumped on Richie McCaw's culpability for that last penalty. Yeah, maybe he could have been less keen, but if he wasn't the primary tackler - allowing him to have a go from wherever he was - then the Waratahs should have been penalised for "initiating the tackle". It was a tough call to decide a championship on.

On the whole it was still a bloody good season for the Crusaders but I don't think they produced their best rugby in the final. They never quite recaptured the heights of that demolition of the Brumbies.

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There's also talk that Todd Blackadder has failed as coach because he hasn't delivered titles. Hang on. He's got them to six straight semifinals, including two finals, and if you think about the personnel disruptions he's had, that's a fabulous effort.

He should be judged on performance, and not on previous exploits. He's at least put them in with chance of winning the title every year, which no other coach can claim.

So, what does all this mean for the Bledisloe Cup in a fortnight?

Nothing, is the short answer. If anything there will probably be even greater determination now from the All Blacks to smash these guys at their home.

The Waratahs will form the backbone of the Wallabies and I'm not sure they can improve a lot either environment-wise or playing-wise. Whereas I think the opposite applies for the All Blacks.

Any confidence the Wallabies take out of this result will be false confidence. It's a massive step up to test rugby, and though the Waratahs will still be buzzing, in the back of their minds they'll know they're facing a massive challenge.

Nothing's changed on the back of one Super Rugby game.

- Stuff

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