New South Wales Waratahs will play six-time champions Canterbury Crusaders in the final of the Super 14 next week after a comprehensive 28-13 semi-final victory over South Africa's Coastal Sharks yesterday.
The Waratahs won through to their second Super 14 final with a four-tries to one victory over the error-strewn Sharks.
The Sharks lost last year’s final by a point to the Northern Bulls, but they were never in the game against the well-drilled Waratahs, who dominated the breakdowns with intimidating defense and stole five line-outs from the Sharks.
The Sydney team stormed to a 25-6 lead after 45 minutes, but they lost their way in the final 30 minutes, enabling the Sharks to score a consolation try by replacement hooker Craig Burden nine minutes from time.
“Obviously the effort was there, but we lost our structure in the middle of the second half which was a really frustrating period,” Waratahs’ coach Ewen McKenzie said.
“We lost our focus and we pulled it back a bit at the end, but it was a great result,” he said.
The Waratahs would have won by far more if not for wayward goal kicking from fly-half Kurtley Beale, who only kicked a penalty and a conversion from seven attempts, although he chipped in with a late drop goal to seal the victory.
Sharks’ skipper Johann Muller was critical of his team’s stream of errors, which at times bordered on the comical.
“We were beaten by a better side tonight, we made a lot of errors and they scored on those and all credit to them,” he said.
The Waratahs were beaten by the Crusaders 35-25 in their only Super 14 final appearance three years ago in Christchurch.
The home side scored tries through Wallaby winger Lote Tuqiri, Rob Horne, Beale and Luke Burgess.
Fly-half Ruan Pienaar opened the scoring with a fourth-minute drop goal, but the Waratahs began to take control midway through the first half.
The Waratahs dominated the breakdown during the first half and their powerful defense left the Sharks flat-footed and directionless at times.
The home side then scored two tries in four minutes to open a 15-3 lead after 30 minutes.
Tuqiri swooped on a dropped ball by center Adrian Jacobs and held off Francois Steyn to score in the 26th minute.
Horne, making only his sixth Super 14 appearance, finished off a passing rush after Sam Norton-Knight’s cut-out pass created the scoring opportunity.
Waratah back-rowers, Phil Waugh, Rocky Elsom and Wycliffe Palu were menacing off the rucks and pressured the Sharks’ inside backs Pienaar and Steyn, targeting the Sharks’ pair in attack.
Steyn kept the Sharks in the contest with a trademark 50m penalty goal to have the South Africans trailing 15-6 at halftime.
Tongan back-rower Epi Taione, in his first game back from a six-week suspension and preferred to Springbok A.J. Venter in the starting lineup, had a horror match, dropping the ball five times before he was hauled off in the 48th minute.
The Waratahs clinched victory with tries from scrum-half Beale and an intercept by Burgess in the opening three minutes of the second half.