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NSW Waratahs duo Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper in line for Wallabies selection

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Waratahs win maiden title

NSW win the Super Rugby 2014 title against the Crusaders in a thrilling 33-32 triumph at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

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1. Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper may be too good for the Wallabies to ignore. The final was so breathless it took repeat viewings for some of the quality to really stand out. And Beale was at the heart of it. He threw three excellent passes - one wide one to Bernard Foley was a beauty - in the build-up to Ashley-Cooper's first try. His was the first kick that sailed over Nemani Nadolo's head. His was the short ball that put Michael Hooper into a gap outside Richie McCaw. And his was the final ball to Ashley-Cooper for the No.13's second try. In essence he answered the one lingering criticism often said about his play - he looks for room for himself rather than others. It was a complete performance, with only a few handling errors in contact to displease the hard markers. Beale and Ashley-Cooper are Australia's pre-eminent centre pairing. Incumbents Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani have done little wrong, but form spoke loudly on Saturday night.

2. Bernard Foley's full range is starting to show. The restarts, the goalkicking, the ability to take on the line - what was perhaps an ability to do a number of things well last year has turned into the ability to do all things well, and under pressure. The clever little half-break in the 63rd minute, stepping this way and that through heavy traffic, was instrumental in creating the space on the outside for Ashley-Cooper. A few weeks back All Blacks coach Steven Hansen was asked to assess the coming threat of the Wallabies. He mentioned two players by name. One was Israel Folau and the other was Foley. 

3. Benn Robinson, take a bow. What would the Wallabies' front-row stocks look like if the squad had been announced after the final and not before? Robinson troubled Owen Franks at scrum time in the first half and carried with real vigour as the Waratahs established a pace the Crusaders couldn't match. For all Pek Cowan's qualities, it is hard to recall many games when set-piece work has been as convincing as Robinson at his best. And with James Slipper looking like a different beast this year, and Scott Sio growing all the time, there is a bit of depth emerging on that side of the scrum.   

Happy days: Kurtley Beale celebrates with his Waratahs teammates.

Happy days: Kurtley Beale celebrates with his Waratahs teammates. Photo: Getty Images

4. Richie McCaw has lost half a yard, and it's likely not coming back. McCaw has made mugs of everyone who has tried to identify the time line of his decline. But, like a broken clock, even flawed judgments will be right sooner or later. Crusaders assistant coach Dave Hewett, in a pre-game interview with a New Zealand television station, conceded McCaw has lost some pace. And from the All Blacks' end-of-season tour in 2013, he has not had the influence on games he has enjoyed in the past. Perhaps we are looking for it more now the end is much closer than the start, but there have been a number of missed tackles this year, against Tevita Li, Malakai Fekitoa and Marland Yarde. And in the 59th minute Hooper burst outside McCaw from a Beale short pass, all dynamism and pace. And that is the beauty of youth. It can be respectful of legends but not in awe. In Hooper v McCaw, Bledisloe has found another wonderful plotline.

5. Craig Joubert confirms why he is among the best. Yes, the final penalty will be debated, but there is no lingering sense of injustice. Joubert handed out penalties both ways. He rewarded the Crusaders' scrum dominance when Wyatt Crockett started to get some joy out of Sekope Kepu and pinged the Waratahs for offside to present the Crusaders with the lead with only minutes remaining. The Crusaders struggled to slow the Waratahs' ball all evening - the Tahs' ball retention was simply outstanding and has set the bar for others next year - and even when the lineout started to wobble, it was the one thing the Waratahs could go back to to build pressure. Accordingly, the McCaw decision was one Joubert would have given in the 5th minute as well the 79th. He adjudicated the same way regardless of time on the clock -  and players cannot ask for more than that.

Australian Super Rugby team of the season

Composure: Bernard Foley in action during the Waratahs' victorious final.

Composure: Bernard Foley in action during the Waratahs' victorious final. Photo: Getty Images

1. James Slipper (Reds)

2. Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs)

3. Sekope Kepu (Waratahs)

15. Israel Folau (Waratahs) Click for more photos

Australian team of the tournament 2014

Paul Cully picks the best XV from the Australian conference in 2014. Photo: Getty Images

4. Jacques Potgieter (Waratahs)

5. Sam Carter (Brumbies)

6. Scott Fardy (Brumbies)

Bloodied and beaten: Crusaders veteran Richie McCaw after conceding the crucial late penalty to the Waratahs.

Bloodied and beaten: Crusaders veteran Richie McCaw after conceding the crucial late penalty to the Waratahs. Photo: Getty Images

7. Michael Hooper (Waratahs)

8. Wycliff Palu (Waratahs)

9. Nick Phipps (Waratahs)

10. Bernard Foley (Waratahs)

11. Nick Cummins (Western Force)

12. Kurtley Beale (Waratahs)

13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs)

14. Henry Speight (Brumbies)

15. Israel Folau (Waratahs)

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Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
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