The Growden Report
We have the Super Rugby final we deserve
July 28, 2014
Jacques Potgieter confirmed his standing among the best signings of the season © Getty Images
New South Wales Waratahs have the talent, tenacity, technique and tactics to win their first Super Rugby title. But do they have the required tact at lineout and scrum time?
The momentum is certainly behind the Waratahs achieving something that should have been theirs years ago, as their defence and attacking capabilities are first-rate, but a nagging doubt remains due to the inconsistency of their set-piece - especially the lineout.
Richie McCaw has essential experience up front © Getty Images
The other irritation for Waratahs fans is that timing may work against them; suddenly a revitalised Crusaders are performing how they used to, like a pseudo-All Blacks outfit swatting away anything that gets in their way. A lot of that has to do with their elder statesmen - Richie McCaw and Dan Carter - producing even when they have unfamiliar numbers on their back, and the most intimidating of attacking forces - Nemani Nadolo - knowing precisely the location of the try line.
The other great unknown is that the two teams haven't confronted each other this season - which is a serious fault in the Super Rugby conference system - so they are not 100% certain what they are confronting, and that can lead to self-doubts developing among those not used to finals football. The Crusaders have that experience, the Waratahs not so much, and that could nullify New South Wales' hometown advantage.
No matter what, the 2014 Super Rugby grand final at ANZ Stadium on Saturday will be special, and the ideal finale to an excellent season, as it involves two teams who enjoy expressing themselves, who are prepared to play in the right vein, and wjo are so closely matched. A victor will be determined by the really fine details… such as winning your own lineouts, which for the Waratahs has recently become a major chore. The Crusaders will pounce on that, as well as attempt to disrupt the Waratahs' scrum, knowing that will diminish the hosts' attacking edge.
Crusaders 38-6 Sharks (Australia only)%]
The standout finals performance of the weekend came from the Crusaders, who were at their peak right from the kick-off and did not let up in turning the Sharks into mere observers. But the Waratahs weren't that far behind in showing they have a variety of ways to win games, this time opting against finesse and instead going for the knuckleduster approach.
The Waratahs-Brumbies semi-final was always going to be physical, an occasion for some long-awaited get-squares, as the arch-rivals don't get on. So there were numerous nasty moments up front, where opponents took it upon themselves to put a little extra into the tackles.
When matches become menacing, it is advisable to have such man-monsters as Jacques Potgieter and Will Skelton on your side. The semi-final reinforced the fact that New South Wales made the signing coup of the year by luring Potgieter from the Bulls, as he was a game changer, threatening every time he had ball in hand or went charging into the ruck at express speed, scarifying anything that crossed his path. Then Skelton gave them the required edge in the final quarter, with a wild-arms-and-legs performance that reminded all why one English rugby magazine described him a few weeks ago as 'The Eclipse' and all those who got in his way being mere Lilliputians.
Waratahs 26-8 Brumbies (Australia only)
Nonetheless, the Brumbies did help the Waratahs at times. Opting against penalty kicks wasn't the wisest move, but you could almost understand why they preferred the sideline as Christian Leali'ifano's goal-kicking radar has been blurred all year. As blurry has been how the Brumbies have used Pat McCabe this season. The most committed of attacking players has in recent weeks been wasted on the bench, and McCabe's second-half appearance against the Waratahs, prompted by Jesse Mogg getting hooked after he was stripped of possession that led to Kurtley Beale's try, was again far too late.
Michael Cheika's words during the season will now come to fruition: he has often told the players that to be the best you have to beat the best; well, the best are the Crusaders. And that's why there will be absolutely no doubt, if the Waratahs can overcome them, that this is the greatest New South Wales professional line-up, and the best since Nick Farr-Jones' unbeaten 1991 team that even defeated Wales 71-8; ah, the memories!
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd