With 20 minutes to go in last night’s Super Rugby final we were getting messages from the other side of the world from normally casual observers who were astounded by the match unfolding in Sydney.
What a game, they said.
And this was before we even reached the moment of apogee, when Bernard Foley kicked a penalty goal from 45m out to win the game by a single point.
An early match report said Foley “calmly slotted” that kick.
But early match reports are written in a rush. It was anything but calm. Foley’s kicks take a flat profile at the best of times, but this one seemed to come straight from his boot and barrel straight for the crossbar.
The 61,000 people at ANZ Stadium thought: short.
But no. Over the crossbar, by two-fifths of an inch. Flags up. 33-32 on the scoreboard. A handful of seconds left on the clock.
Like I said, joy.
Foley said after the game: “I knew it was right on my distance. I knew I didn’t have much more left in it. I had to give it a lot. I think the rugby gods were smiling.”
For purists, there was a special poetry in how the penalty in the last minute was awarded against Richie McCaw, who is widely regarded as two things: one of the best players in the history of the game, and a cheat, who stretches the rules of the game and avoids penalties because he’s the captain of the All Blacks.
Test rugby players have complained publicly complained that McCaw seems to get away with anything. Well, in the final minute at ANZ Stadium last night, he didn’t.
It’s the kind of moment that can make you find religion. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. And the Crusaders. And Richie McCaw.
There were comments from the people there straight after the game that this was one of the best games they had ever seen. The Prime Minister even chimed in:
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) August 2, 2014
Yep. I watched Leinster come back from 22-6 down against Northampton in the 2011 Heineken Cup final to win 33-22, but that was a see-saw game where dominance swapped sides. This was different. There was tension and entertainment from the opening. The Waratahs started with a flourish, scoring a try in the first minutes and pulling away in the first quarter.
But the Crusaders’ scoreline was like the global stock markets this year, ticking ever upwards. Somehow, it was 23-23 in the middle of the second half. The game was anyone’s.
There was a controversial review decision, a brilliant captain’s breakout run from Michael Hooper that brought the stadium to its feet, a high tackle, tough mauls, passing plays executed like a schoolyard runabout, and set pieces that went against the team with the ball because of sheer mongrel and skill from the other side.
Adam Ashley-Cooper scoring in the corner in the 62nd minute was a special moment. It came at a crucial point in the game and was delivered from Waratah pressure built over time.
For anyone who’s rugby-curious, get your hands on a copy of this game and watch it. Australian rugby has felt like it has been at a tipping point for the last couple of years, in danger of consigning itself to a permanent niche without showing that it can draw and entertain big audiences, and perhaps most importantly, deliver trophies.
What a team. What a coach. What a night.
*Business Insider was a guest of ANZ Stadium
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