Saturday, 31 May 2008
Crusaders captain Richie McCaw pointed to 10 special minutes as the principal factor in his side's marvellous 20-12 victory over the NSW Waratahs in Saturday night's Super 14 final in Christchurch.
The Crusaders looked to be in a tight spot a quarter of an hour into the second spell when big lock Brad Thorn was yellow-carded for throwing a punch at a player on the ground.
Not only did the infraction rule out a try scored upfield by prop Wyatt Crockett, but it meant the Crusaders had to face an important 10-minute period of the final a man down.
Remarkably, the Crusaders did not concede a point while Thorn was off (in fact they kept the Tahs scoreless following Lachie Turner's second try 25 minutes into the opening spell), knuckling down to a tremendous defensive stand.
Then when Thorn returned, heartened no doubt his indiscipline hadn't proved costly, the champion outfit tightened the screws even further, adding a late dropped goal and penalty to Dan Carter to make the match safe.
"That shows how tough everyone is," said a clearly proud McCaw after the match. "You've got to really dig deep and when you're down to 14 it sometimes hardens your resolve even more. The way we defended and to not give away any points was pretty awesome."
McCaw said the emotions had been kept in check all week as the huge occasion came around. Not only was it the final match for master coach Robbie Deans, who grabbed a fifth title in eight years, but it was also a triumphant end for Super rugby centurions Reuben Thorne and Caleb Ralph who are both heading to Japan to wind down their careers.
"You've got to try to keep that out of it because emotion doesn't win rugby games," McCaw told Sky's interviewers. "You've got to bring passion and all that, you've got to be pretty clinical and cool in your frame of mind. That's what we tried to do this week. There's a lot of emotion out there now and I guess there will be later on tonight."
McCaw admitted he was almost "lost for words" at the end of a stirring final in which the Crusaders claimed their seventh title in the last 11 years.
But he agreed that defence was what won his side a match in which they could muster just one try.
"That's what we always pride ourselves on. It sets attitudes. Towards the end of the round-robin it was letting us down. Last week we took a step up and tonight the hits going in were just outstanding."
The Crusaders skipper said there was no panic in the side despite trailing 12-11 at halftime.
"We felt on top, we were playing a lot of rugby. When you've got the ball and you're starting to breathe pretty hard, you hope that they are too, making all those tackles. We knew if we could keep our composure at the start of the second half points would come. We kept composed and got what was needed."
Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie said he was happy enough with his side's effort.
"Two tries to one, I think we were on the right track," he said at the post-match media conference. "We didn't nail a couple of opportunities where we created pressure. That's experience, pressure in big games, where we came up a little bit short."
But McKenzie did say he thought there would be life after Deans at the champion franchise in Christchurch.
"How many titles have they won now? They've won a heap. I'd suggest the succession planning they do has been top notch. I'm sure they have that sorted on and off the field."
Tahs skipper Phil Waugh cut a pretty desolate figure afterwards. He said there remained a huge gulf between finishing runnerup, which his side had now done twice, and taking the silverware.
"It's a huge jump. We walk away very disappointed. We felt like we could have won the game but we just didn't play well enough and they deserved to win. The difference between second and first is huge. The younger guys will learn, we're a pretty young squad and hopefully next time we don't make the same mistakes. I'm just proud of tghe way the guys stuck together throughout the year. There's a lot of young guys there that will learn a lot from this. Hopefully we can keep the nucleus of this squad together."
Veteran international Waugh was also asked what he thought Deans would now bring to the Wallabies.
"He's obviously done a good job here. Hopefully he comes across and brings the same success to Australia."