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Super Rugby: Waratahs overpower Brumbies to book Crusaders final
New South Wales Waratahs booked a Super Rugby final showdown with the Christchurch Crusaders after beating the Brumbies 26-8 in an all-Australian semi-final.
Twice losers in Super Rugby’s showpiece event, the Waratahs will host the Crusaders in Sydney next Saturday after seeing off the challenge of two-time champions Brumbies in a pulsating Allianz Stadium affair.
Alofa Alofa ensured the Waratahs got off to flying start before Henry Speight hit back for the Brumbies.
Kurtley Beale added a second Waratahs try shortly after the break and Foley, who got the better of Christian Leali’ifano in the kicking duel, added a gloss with a score of his own minutes from time.
Honours may have been even across the two regular-season meetings between the sides, but there was no disputing the Waratahs’ favourites tag ahead of the crunch clash with Michael Cheika’s side securing a home draw with a remarkable seven-match unbeaten run.
The New South Wales franchise have been the box office attraction of the southern hemisphere’s premier competition this term, scoring 55 tries in their 16 outings, and once again they started as they meant to go on at the Allianz Stadium.
With only three minutes on the clock, Alofa seized on a loose ball and despite the best efforts of Jesse Mogg and Robbie Coleman the Auckland-born flyer raced 60 metres before sliding over the whitewash as the Waratahs made a dream start.
If Saturday’s first semi-final, which saw the Crusaders beat the Sharks 38-6, was billed as a war of the towering packs, this all-Australian affair put two of the most attacking Super Rugby sides toe-to-toe.
Full-back Mogg – vying to prove his worth against Wallaby first-choice Israel Folau – looked to break the hosts’ defence, while Robbie Coleman and Speight also sought opening as the Brumbies looked to bite back.
However, it was the Waratahs who were in the ascendancy after a high-octane opening quarter, with fly-half Foley slotting a penalty to give the hosts an 8-0 advantage.
As the counter-attacking play faded, the Brumbies started to wrestle their way back into contention and a period of sustained pressure led to their first opening of the match.
Despite the deficit only being eight, the Brumbies passed up kickable penalties knowing 37 of their 49 regular-season tries came from set-piece plays.
For a moment it appeared a questionable decision as the ever-resilient Waratahs defence stood firm, but a scrum under the posts left them stretched and Brumbies winger Speight – whose sparkling form was this week rewarded by a first call-up to the Australian squad for The Rugby Championship – slid over in the corner.
Wallaby centre Leali’ifano restored parity moments later with a three-pointer, only for Foley to nudge the Waratahs back in front on the cusp of half-time.
Leali’ifano passed up the opportunity to level the scores once more after the break and his miss from tee proved costly as the Waratahs made another flying start.
After they had worked their way through 11 phases centre Adam Ashley-Cooper kicked ahead before his midfield partner Beale ripped the ball from the hands of Mogg and charged into the bottom corner to touch down the Waratahs’ second try.
More ill-discipline in defence allowed Foley to extend the Waratahs lead to 11, before Joe Tomane broke down the right wing and threated to reduce the Brumbies’ arrears.
It proved to be another fruitless attack for the Brumbies and they paid the ultimate price as a rampaging Will Skelton – omitted from the starting line-up in favour of Jacques Potgieter despite enjoying a breakthrough season – made an immediate impact from the bench.
The 21st 8lb ball-carrying forward charged over the halfway line and rattled through defenders before offering a precision offload to Foley, who left Coleman and Pat McCabe in his wake as he raced over the line before adding his own extras.
Waratahs replacement Taqele Naiyaravoro was shown a yellow card in the final minute and the despite being 18 points adrift, the Brumbies played on into overtime but could not put a dent in the final scoreline.