Editorial: Rugby really was the winner

Last updated 07:48 04/08/2014

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OPINION: If the Melbourne Cup is the race that stops a nation, then Bernard Foley's last-gasp, long range penalty attempt was the kick that stilled collective hearts on both sides of the Tasman.

It will be cold comfort to Kieran Read and Todd Blackadder as they lick their wounds today, but the Crusaders should be proud of the part they played in the greatest Super Rugby final of all time, in Sydney on Saturday night.

Some spectators among the record 61,000 crowd could not bear to watch and television viewers peeked between splayed fingers as Foley lined up a 45m shot, at the extreme end of his kicking range.

Time seemed to stand still after Foley struck the ball to send it teetering, then tottering, over the crossbar. The Waratahs celebrated a 33-32 victory for their first Super Rugby title, in turn denying the Crusaders a record eighth crown.

Rarely has the hackneyed phrase "rugby was the winner" been more appropriate than in this epic encounter between the two best teams in an extremely close competition.

Eighty minutes of electric action culminated in a contest of test-match intensity, the greatest game at Sydney's Olympic Stadium since the Blackadder-captained All Blacks edged the Wallabies, 39-35, in 2000.

Grand finals are generally cagey, cat-and-mouse affairs, but the Waratahs produced the most frenetic start to a final since the Brumbies racked up 33 unanswered points in the first minutes against the Crusaders at Canberra in 2004. It was to the Crusaders' credit on Saturday that they turned back the blue tide and turned a 14-0 deficit into a slender lead before Foley's coup de grace.

Games can turn on a hairline decision, as in South African referee Craig Joubert's ruling of a ruck infringement by Richie McCaw for the game-clinching penalty. Dan Carter's first-half injury, which led to his replacement, was also untimely and robbed the Crusaders of a key playmaker.

Yet, the Waratahs also lost some vital men, including dynamic hooker Tafatu Polota-Nau.

Despite their defeat, the Crusaders' performance on Saturday has only embellished their reputation as the most successful Super Rugby franchise.

Eleven finals - and seven titles - in the last 16 seasons is peerless in professional sport.

But success also generates expectation. The Crusaders haven't won the Super Rugby crown since 2008, Robbie Deans' final season as head coach.

Blackadder has taken the team to the semifinals for six consecutive seasons, but this was his second grand final defeat as coach. He was an agonising minute away from becoming the first man to captain and coach champion teams.

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Some have suggested Blackadder, who is contracted to 2016, could face the sack if he didn't deliver a title this year.

But it would be a kneejerk reaction to jettison a coach whose team lost a final by one point after a contentious refereeing decision.

The coach, like the Crusaders, will live to fight another day.

- The Press

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