The Waratahs will host the Super Rugby final after beating the Brumbies 26-8 in Sydney, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
After the Crusaders' demolition of the Sharks earlier on Saturday, the second semi-final was a much tighter affair. The Tahs were far from their fluent best, with the Brumbies disrupting them at every turn, but in the end they were able to get over the line and book their first-ever final in Sydney.
They took their points when they were on offer and produced a monumental defensive effort to secure a meeting with the Crusaders in next weekend's showpiece.
The first half had all the intensity expected of a local derby, with the Brumbies giving as good as they got. Alofa Alofa got things going for the Waratahs in the third minute, capitalising on a loose Brumbies pass to run the ball in from 60m. A Foley penalty made it 8-0 after 20 minutes, but the Waratahs were struggling to assert themselves on the opposition. Their set piece malfunctioned time and again, while they struggled to get across the gainline as the Brumbies fronted up to them physically.
The Brumbies would be rewarded for their efforts, with Henry Speight going over in the corner following a period of relentless pressure. The Waratahs were guilty of trying to play too much rugby at times, but their work on defence helped keep their noses in front. They headed into the break 11-8 to the good thanks to a late Bernard Foley penalty.
Christian Lealiifano wasted an early penalty opportunity in the second half to draw the teams level and the Brumbies would pay for their wastefulness. Following a rare foray into Brumbies territory, Adam Ashley-Cooper grubbered through for his teammates to chase. Jesse Mogg was seized upon by three Tahs defenders, with Kurtley Beale stripping the ball from the Brumbies fullback to race clear and go over in the corner. Bernard Foley was unable to add the extras, leaving the Waratahs 16-8 up with 33 minutes still to play.
The Brumbies spent the rest of the second half camped deep in Waratahs territory, but try as they might they couldn't break down the Tahs' defensive wall. It would be the home side that would land the knockout blow as the Brumbies pushed to get back into the match late on. The ball went wide after a Brumbies' handling error, where Folau dropped it inside for Rob Horne to burst up the middle of the park before offloading to big Will Skelton. The Waratahs behemoth rumbled upfield, swatting off would-be Brumbies tacklers before slipping the ball to Bernard Foley to dive over and send the Sydney faithful into delirium.
Few could argue that the two best teams will compete for the title next weekend in a repeat of the 2008 final which the Crusaders won 20-12.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Leon Power, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Ruaidhri Murphy, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Joe Tomane, 23 Pat McCabe.
Waratahs – Tries: Alofa Alofa, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley. Conversion: Bernard Foley. Penalties: Foley (3).
Brumbies – Try: Henry Speight. Penalty: Christian Lealiifano.
LEATHERMAN PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper showed himself to be a player for the big ocassion, leading from the front. He made 10 tackles and nine carries in another all-action performance.
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