Super Rugby: Waratahs defence the difference says Michael Hooper after semi-final success
Last Updated: 26/07/14 3:59pm
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper hailed the defensive might of the New South Wales franchise after they beat Australian rivals Brumbies 26-8 to reach the Super Rugby final on Saturday.
Fly-half Bernard Foley a fine late try in a personal tally of 16 points, while Alofa Alofa and Kurtley Beale also crossed the whitewash as the Waratahs reached the final for the third time and won the right to host the Super Rugby decider for the first time in their history.
An opportunistic try in each half gave the Waratahs an 11-8 lead at halftime and a 19-8 advantage before Foley's 78th-minute game-clincher.
Defence wins you games and it was really good tonight, really good to see the big boys doing the hard work.
Winger Alofa Alofa scored an intercept try in the third minute to give the Waratahs a lead they never relinquished and centre Kurtley Beale stripped the ball from Jesse Mogg to score a decisive try after 48 minutes.
Earlier Saturday, the Crusaders beat South Africa's Sharks 38-6 at Christchurch to reach the final for the 11th time and to close in on their eighth title.
The Crusaders won the most recent of their seven titles in 2008 when they beat the Waratahs 20-12.
While the Crusaders' win was one-sided, achieved by five tries to none, the Waratahs' win over the Brumbies was hard-fought and owed a great deal to the resilience of their defence.
They were both the best defensive and best attacking side in the competition throughout the regular season and their Sydney success highlighted both of those faculties.
Waratahs captain Hooper, who was at the helm of that defensive effort, was delighted with his team's eighth-straight win and believes hosting the showpiece event is "new territory but exciting territory".
"We talked before the game about taking opportunities but we had to make them tonight," Hooper said. "We came up with a few, I won't say lucky tries but tries we built under pressure and we take that, we're in the final and we're stoked.
"Defence wins you games and it was really good tonight, really good to see the big boys doing the hard work."
The Waratahs started strongly and rocked the Brumbies when Alofa picked up a misdirected pass and ran 60 metres to score. The Brumbies fought their way back into the match in the second part of the first spell and drew level with Henry Speight's try and a penalty to Christian Leali'ifano.
But the Waratahs, with a Foley penalty, took an 11-8 lead to halftime and took a strong step towards victory with Beale's try in the eighth minute of the second half. They then held out against the Brumbies who tried tenaciously to fight their way back into the game.
"We had more than enough opportunities inside their 22 to come away with a lot of points and you've got to give credit to the way the New South Wales guys held on," Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said.
"They defended really well, they dismantled our maul which has been a real strength of ours and they're obviously the best defensive side in the competition for a reason."