Waratahs bid for first Super title



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The Waratahs will be chasing only their second win over the Crusaders in Christchurch after winning through to the Super 14 rugby final.

The Waratahs qualified for their second southern hemisphere provincial final with a comprehensive 28-13 win over the Sharks here on Saturday, while the Crusaders beat the Hurricanes 33-22.

The odds heavily favour Robbie Deans’s Crusaders claiming their seventh Super rugby title after winning through to their ninth final in 11 years.

The Waratahs have not beaten the Crusaders since 2004 (43-19) and in addition to losing their past five encounters with Canterbury, they have won just once in eight attempts in Christchurch since the tournament’s inception in 1996.

Among their seven defeats there was a 35-25 loss in the 2005 final and a 96-19 humbling in the final round of the 2002 season.

Last March (2007) they went down 34-7 in Christchurch.

“We’re up for the challenge,” said NSW coach Ewen McKenzie, who continues to embarrass NSW Rugby officials after they decided mid-season not to renew his coaching contract beyond this year.

“The Crusaders is the ultimate challenge. To get credibility, you have to be able to beat teams like that,” he said.

“They just have this ability to play…. They find ways to win. That is why they are such a good team.”

The Waratahs completed an unbeaten home record this season with a four-tries-to-one win over the outgunned Sharks, who lost last year’s final 20-19 to the Bulls.

The Crusaders flattened the Hurricanes in a near-complete performance in their semi-final on Saturday.

The 11-point winning margin, and three tries apiece scoreline, did not do justice to the total domination by the Crusaders throughout the match.

The most successful side in the history of Super rugby, the Crusaders enjoyed 61 percent of possession and an overwhelming 76 percent territorial advantage.

The one negative for the Crusaders was the loss of senior hooker Corey Flynn with a broken arm early in the match.

His replacement Ti’i Paulo left the field with a leg injury just before fulltime but is expected to be fit for the final.

McKenzie played down fly-half Kurtley Beale’s unreliable goalkicking, which did not cost the Waratahs against the woeful Sharks.

Beale goes into next weekend’s final having landed just five of his past 14 attempts, including only two from seven against the Sharks.

The 19-year-old’s success rate has fallen below 60 percent for the season — the worst of the recognised kickers in the tournament — but McKenzie Sunday refused to hit the panic button.

“We’re sticking with Kurtley. I’m not going to get bogged down in the goalkicking,” McKenzie said.

“There are less shots at goal in the game (with the experimental rules) and, obviously when you kick at goal, all those points are important, but he’s been doing the job for us all year.

“I’m not going to start judging him on one game or two games or whatever. He’s done the job for us and no one’s said boo.”

But a repeat wayward performance from Beale could prove disastrous against the Crusaders, who have All Black sharpshooter Daniel Carter.

Waratahs skipper Phil Waugh, who made his 100th appearance for his province in the win over the Sharks, said his team were looking at producing their best form against the Crusaders.

“I think when we came away from there (Christchurch) a couple of months ago, we were really disappointed with how we finished the game,” Waugh said.

“Amongst the team, I still feel as though we haven’t played our best football so there’s no better time than next week to put it together.”

“The Crusaders have been the form team all year and they deserve to have a home final. It’s a big week (ahead of us).”

Sapa-AFP – Super14.com

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