Waratahs pip Crusaders in Super Rugby final
The Waratahs won a drama-laden Super Rugby grand final 33-32 in Sydney with Bernard Foley breaking the Crusaders hearts by kicking a 45m penalty in the final seconds.
This frantic contest had multiple dramas, starting with the Crusaders trailing 14-0 in as many minutes, losing their talismanic general Dan Carter with an ankle injury in the first half and then having to mount a spirited comeback in front of a record 62,000-strong crowd.
He might be one of the smallest men on the park but first five-eighth Foley proved to the coolest customer in the stadium when he slotted the long-range shot to win his club their first title.
The defeat left Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder to once again lament another gut-wrenching stumble in the finals.
Blackadder, who succeeded Robbie Deans in 2009, has never added to the seven titles the franchise had acquired under Wayne Smith and Deans between 1998 and 2008.
This was his second defeat in a grand final, having lost 18-13 to the Reds in Brisbane in 2011 and it prevented him becoming the first person to win titles as a Super Rugby captain and coach.
The victory ensured Waratahs gaffer Michael Cheika established a unique place in the annals of rugby history, becoming the first person to coach teams to victories in the premier competitions of both hemispheres.
He conquered Europe in 2009, winning the Heineken Cup with Irish club Leinster and now, in just his second season in charge of the Waratahs, has pushed the Sydney club to the top of the southern hemisphere ladder Cheika goaded his forwards by publicly stating that New Zealanders thought his forwards were ''soft'' and the ruse worked.
His pack flew into the breakdowns and until he forced off with injury in the 44th minute hooker Tatafu Polata-Nau was a deadly ball carrier.
Then the Crusaders scrum didn't just go up a gear; it went up several of them.
At one point Wyatt Crockett did such a ruthless number on his opposite Sekope Kepu that assistant referee Steve Walsh told whistler Craig Joubert he needed to be pinged because he was getting ''smashed''.
A touch of genius if often needed for teams to claw their way back into contests and for the Crusaders it came in the unlikely shape of tighthead prop Owen Franks who unleashed a dynamite offload in the lead-up to Nemani Nadolo's try soon after halftime.
Luck doesn't hurt, either, in such situations and despite Nadolo appearing to have plonked a foot as he slid near the corner flag, TMO George Ayoub awarded the try.
Earlier in the week Waratahs centre Adam Ashley-Cooper wowed his team-mates by reciting a poem and within five minutes of the first whistle he caused their jaws to slacken by running such a straight line that he blasted through the Crusaders defence to score his first try of the night.
What a wonderful start it was for the Aussies and as the nervy Crusaders struggled to get their hands on the pill their anxiety mounted as the New South Welshmen piled into the breakdowns, won the defensive collisions and were the kings of the scrum.
The set pieces was one area where the Crusaders hoped to have the ascendancy but, on several occasions in the opening 40 minutes, they were forced to throw out the grappling hooks on hold on for dear life on their own scrum feeds.
Foley nailed five penalties in the first half and the only blemish was the missed conversion of Ashley-Cooper's try.
Trailing 14-0 after as many minutes, the Crusaders needed to hook themselves back into the game and it required a counter-attack from the deep, when captain and No 8 Kieran Read punched down the left flank, to set-up the try for openside flanker Matt Todd.
Todd, finding himself in space charged into the enemy's danger zone and stepped inside Ashley-Cooper's tackle to go over.
Waratahs 33 (Adam Ashley-Cooper 2 tries; Bernard Foley 7 pens) Crusaders 32 (Matt Todd, Nemani Nadolo tries; Dan Carter con, Colin Slade con, 6 pens). HT: 14-0.
See how the match panned out below.