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NSW Waratahs fall down but get back up again to reward faithful in Super Rugby final against Crusaders

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Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald

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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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‘‘They’ll probably think we’ll fall down in the second half,’’ Waratahs coach Michael Cheika said of the Crusaders at half-time of the Super Rugby final.

He was confident his side wouldn’t. Two minutes into the second half, though, they face-planted.

Kurtley Beale’s desperate covering tackle on winger Nemani Nadolo appeared to have just dragged a foot into touch. The TMO thought otherwise, and as the try was controversially awarded, Tahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau forlornly limped from the field.

Bounce back: Elated Waratahs players celebrate victory over the Crusaders.

Bounce back: Elated Waratahs players celebrate victory over the Crusaders. Photo: Getty Images

At 20-all, with the tide turning, there was suddenly more than just a breakthrough Super Rugby win for the Tahs at stake.

Australian rugby has been gazing deep into its own navel for years, probably since Jonny Wilkinson broke a thousand hearts in the World Cup final in 2003, as the game struggles to find relevancy in a congested and ever-changing market.

This season, the men in blue have provided hope anew — and the way they sealed the deal with a minute to go can only mean the bandwagon overflows heading into the international season.

Champions: Waratahs players celebrate after winning the Super Rugby final over the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium. Click for more photos

NSW Waratahs win Super Rugby final

The Waratahs got home in a thriller 33-32 via a late penalty goal to Bernard Foley. Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

A mongrel penalty goal to the Crusaders from close range with four minutes to go would normally have broken everyone’s hearts. A familiar tune. We’ve been hurt before.

Then Bernard Foley coolly slotted one in response in the final minute, from 45 metres out, and Australian rugby was back. Way back.

It was a victory not just for rugby, but rugby played as it should be.

Indeed, the result almost ran secondary to the other highly anticipated number of the night: the godforsaken crowd figure. How many souls braved a chilly Sydney night and a typically clogged Parramatta Road apparently clarified if rugby was off life support.

The official number posted was 61,823. That’s a record Super Rugby crowd. Not bad for a ‘‘neutral stadium’’ miles away from the Waratahs’ traditional home at Allianz Stadium.

Yet the most heartening aspect for the suits at the ARU must have been the news earlier in the week that more than half the tickets sold came from outside the traditional rugby strongholds of Sydney’s north shore and eastern suburbs.

What isn’t quantifiable is how many souls have renewed or taken up interest in the endangered species of rugby union because of the attractive style of play demanded by Cheika.

Those in the NSW set-up enthuse he’s among the best they’ve had. He’s been charming on the outside, short-fused behind the scenes, but will put any player back in his box, regardless of whether he is Israel Folau or a bench player battling to keep his spot.

But Cheika, they say, also empowers and gives ownership — and that is the greatest attribute any coach can claim.

It was evident all season as the Waratahs lurched from indifferent team to possible threats to minor premiers to grand final favourites, and there last night as the seven-time champion Crusaders threw all they had at the NSW team.

A player’s coach but a reporter’s nightmare, Cheika is cut from the same paranoid cloth as rugby league’s Des Hasler, whose ‘‘fly under the radar’’ mantra has become the stuff of legend.

Beale and Folau were off limits all week in the build-up — especially the off-contract Beale, who the Waratahs hope to stitch up with a new contract in coming weeks despite apparent interest from rugby league.

His perfectly timed pass in the opening minutes to Foley, which led to the Tahs’ first try, highlighted how far he has come from belting Cooper Vuna at the Rebels in Durban last year.

The NRL would relish pinching back a player.

It could’ve had Folau had it not eased its salary cap by $240,000 a season to sign him when he left AFL two years ago. Now Izzy is the best thing to happen to rugby since it lured Mat Rogers, Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri a decade ago.

It’s not the league converts who spark the most interest in Australian rugby, but the Tahs.

In 2003, they drew crowds of around 30,000 at the Sydney Football Stadium, in the most congested and toughest sporting market in the world.

But since then, they have largely underwhelmed.

Cheika’s mantra of ‘‘if you build it … actually, if you run the ball, they will come’’ mentality was there for all to see in the final.

Notwithstanding the importance of Saturday night's result, the match that will really matter comes in a fortnight, at the same venue.

The wisest owls in Australian rugby have identified the first Bledisloe Cup against the All Blacks as one of the most critical matches in recent memory.

The thought of a Wallabies victory, with a return match at the fortress of Eden Park in Auckland then a possible decider in Brisbane, is mouth-watering.

New Zealand spanked Australia last year. The famed silverware had rarely seemed so unattainable.

But now the unthinkable is possible. The impossible seems possible.

The Waratahs just showed us why, refusing to fall down when many thought they just might.

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Super Rugby 2016

Round 1
Fri, 26 FebTimes shown AEDT
BLU 0vs HIG 0 17:35EP
BRU 0vs HUR 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 0vs Jagu 0 04:00FSS
Sunw 0vs LIO 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
CRU 0vs CHF 0 17:35AMI
WAR 0vs RED 0 19:40AS
FOR 0vs REB 0 21:50nib Stadium
Sun, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
King 0vs SHA 0 00:00NMBS
STO 0vs BUL 0 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 04 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 0vs BLU 0 17:35AMI
BRU 0vs WAR 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 05 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 0vs LIO 0 15:15FMG Stadium Waikato
HIG 0vs HUR 0 17:35FBS
RED 0vs FOR 0 19:40SS
Sun, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 0vs REB 0 00:00Loftu
CHT 0vs STO 0 02:05FSS
SHA 0vs Jagu 0 04:10GpKP
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 11 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU 0vs HUR 0 17:35EP
FOR 0vs BRU 0 22:05nib Stadium
Sat, 12 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 0vs LIO 0 17:35FBS
REB 0vs RED 0 19:40AAMI
Sunw 0vs CHT 0 21:50Singapore National Stadium
Sun, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
King 0vs CHF 0 00:00NMBS
STO 0vs SHA 0 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 18 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 0vs FOR 0 17:35Central Energy Trust Arena
WAR 0vs HIG 0 19:40AS
Sat, 19 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 0vs SHA 0 04:00Loftu
Sunw 0vs REB 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
CRU 0vs King 0 17:35AMI
RED 0vs BLU 0 19:40SS
Sun, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
LIO 0vs CHT 0 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
STO 0vs BRU 0 04:10DHL Newlands
Jagu 0vs CHF 0 09:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 25 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 0vs King 0 17:35WS
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 0vs FOR 0 17:35FMG Stadium Waikato
REB 0vs HIG 0 19:40AAMI
Sunw 0vs BUL 0 21:50Singapore National Stadium
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 0vs BRU 0 00:00FSS
SHA 0vs CRU 0 02:05GpKP
Jagu 0vs STO 0 09:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
RED 0vs WAR 0 16:05SS
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
HIG 0vs FOR 0 17:35FBS
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
LIO 0vs CRU 0 04:00Emirates Airlines Park
BLU 0vs Jagu 0 17:35QBE Stadium
BRU 0vs CHF 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
King 0vs Sunw 0 02:05NMBS
BUL 0vs CHT 0 03:10Loftu
WAR 0vs REB 0 16:05AS
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF 0vs BLU 0 17:35FMG Stadium Waikato
FOR 0vs CRU 0 21:00nib Stadium
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STO 0vs Sunw 0 03:00DHL Newlands
HUR 0vs Jagu 0 17:35WS
RED 0vs HIG 0 19:40SS
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA 0vs LIO 0 01:05GpKP
King 0vs BUL 0 03:10NMBS
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 0vs Jagu 0 17:35AMI
REB 0vs HUR 0 19:40AAMI
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
CHT 0vs Sunw 0 03:00FSS
BLU 0vs SHA 0 17:35EP
WAR 0vs BRU 0 19:40AS
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
BUL 0vs RED 0 01:05Loftu
LIO 0vs STO 0 03:10Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HIG 0vs SHA 0 17:35FBS
REB 0vs CHT 0 19:40AAMI
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
Sunw 0vs Jagu 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
HUR 0vs CHF 0 17:35WS
FOR 0vs WAR 0 19:40nib Stadium
STO 0vs RED 0 23:00DHL Newlands
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
King 0vs LIO 0 01:05NMBS
BRU 0vs CRU 0 16:05GIO Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF 0vs SHA 0 17:35Yarro
FOR 0vs BUL 0 21:05nib Stadium
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
HIG 0vs BRU 0 15:15Rugby Park
BLU 0vs REB 0 17:35EP
RED 0vs CHT 0 19:40SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO 0vs HUR 0 01:05Emirates Airlines Park
STO 0vs WAR 0 03:10DHL Newlands
Jagu 0vs King 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 0vs RED 0 17:35AMI
BRU 0vs BUL 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
Sunw 0vs FOR 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
CHF 0vs HIG 0 17:35FMG Stadium Waikato
WAR 0vs CHT 0 19:40AS
SHA 0vs HUR 0 23:00GpKP
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
King 0vs BLU 0 01:05NMBS
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG 0vs CRU 0 17:35FBS
REB 0vs BRU 0 19:40AAMI
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 0vs RED 0 17:35WS
WAR 0vs BUL 0 19:40AS
Sunw 0vs STO 0 21:45Singapore National Stadium
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 0vs King 0 01:05FSS
LIO 0vs BLU 0 03:10Emirates Airlines Park
Jagu 0vs SHA 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 0vs WAR 0 17:35AMI
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
RED 0vs Sunw 0 15:05SS
CHF 0vs REB 0 17:35FMG Stadium Waikato
FOR 0vs BLU 0 19:40nib Stadium
LIO 0vs Jagu 0 23:00Emirates Airlines Park
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA 0vs King 0 01:05GpKP
BUL 0vs STO 0 03:10Loftu
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 0vs HIG 0 17:35WS
WAR 0vs CHF 0 19:40AS
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
King 0vs Jagu 0 03:00NMBS
BLU 0vs CRU 0 17:35EP
BRU 0vs Sunw 0 19:40GIO Stadium
STO 0vs CHT 0 23:00DHL Newlands
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
BUL 0vs LIO 0 01:05Loftu
REB 0vs FOR 0 16:05AAMI
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
CHF 0vs CRU 0 17:35ANZ National Stadium, Suva
BRU 0vs RED 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
Sunw 0vs WAR 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
HUR 0vs BLU 0 17:35WS
REB 0vs STO 0 19:40AAMI
CHT 0vs FOR 0 23:00FSS
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
LIO 0vs SHA 0 01:05Emirates Airlines Park
King 0vs HIG 0 03:10NMBS
Jagu 0vs BUL 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
BLU 0vs BRU 0 17:35EP
RED 0vs CHF 0 19:40SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
LIO 0vs King 0 03:00Emirates Airlines Park
CRU 0vs REB 0 17:35AMI
WAR 0vs HUR 0 19:40AS
FOR 0vs STO 0 21:45nib Stadium
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
BUL 0vs Sunw 0 01:05Loftu
SHA 0vs CHT 0 03:10GpKP
Jagu 0vs HIG 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
BLU 0vs WAR 0 17:35EP
RED 0vs REB 0 19:40SS
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
SHA 0vs Sunw 0 03:00GpKP
CRU 0vs HUR 0 15:15AMI
HIG 0vs CHF 0 17:35FBS
BRU 0vs FOR 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
STO 0vs King 0 01:05DHL Newlands
CHT 0vs BUL 0 03:10FSS
Jagu 0vs LIO 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby Semi Finals
Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby Grand Final
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby 2016
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Blues 0 0 0 0 0 0
Waratahs 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Super Rugby 2016
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Brumbies 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chiefs 0 0 0 0 0 0
Crusaders 0 0 0 0 0 0
Force 0 0 0 0 0 0
Highlanders 0 0 0 0 0 0
Hurricanes 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rebels 0 0 0 0 0 0
Reds 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
 

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