Deans, McKenzie set for swansong
The Canterbury Crusaders and New South Wales Waratahs won their way to rugby’s Super 14 final, creating an emotional showdown for retiring coaches Robbie Deans and Ewen McKenzie.
Deans guided the Crusaders to a 33-22 win on Saturday over the Wellington Hurricanes, their 10th final in 13 years of Super tournament rugby—and Deans can now bow out with his fifth and their seventh championship title.
McKenzie led the Waratahs to a 28-13 win over the Sharks, shutting the South Africans out of the final and giving New South Wales an opportunity to claim its first title at the end of a season in which his contract was terminated by franchise management.
It will be Deans’ final match after 11 years in charge of the Crusaders—he leaves for Australia immediately to coach the Wallabies—and McKenzie’s last after four years with the Waratahs.
Both teams are already aware of the need to manage that emotion in a heated finals atmosphere.
“When individuals leave they don’t want it to become bigger than the team,” Crusaders captain Richie McCaw said. “They just want the team to function well so that’s going to be the case this week when Robbie goes. He will make sure we don’t get carried away.”
The Waratahs’ four tries to one win over the Sharks, finalists last year, sends them into the championship match in strong form and in a confident mood.
Their record against the Crusaders is poor, however.
They have won only once in eight matches in Christchurch since 1996, lost the 2005 final in the South Island city, went down 34-7 to Canterbury in the sixth round of this season and last beat the Crusaders in 2004.
“When we came away from there a couple of months ago, we were really disappointed with how we finished the game,” Waratahs captain Phil Waugh said. “I still feel as though we haven’t played our best football, so there’s no better time than next week to put it together.”
The Crusaders shrugged off a recent run of poor form, and last week’s upset loss to Otago, to crush the Hurricanes in front of a crowd of barely 16 000 at AMI Stadium, which is currently being rebuilt.
Tries by All Blacks fullback Leon MacDonald on either side of halftime broke the resistance of the Hurricanes who spent almost 90% of the first half in defence.
MacDonald’s first try set the Crusaders to halftime with a 13-8 lead and his second in the 12th minute of the second half made Canterbury’s win a formality. The Hurricanes scored two tries in the last three minutes to make the result look more respectable.
“We went in at halftime and had spent a lot of energy as well,” McCaw said. “But they had defended a fair bit so we had to punish them early in the second half. We had a huge amount of territory in their 22 and we had to make it pay in the end. I think we did.”
On Sunday, an all-South African officiating crew was announced for the final. Mark Lawrence will referee, with Craig Joubert and Cobus Wessels as assistants and Shaun Veldsman as the television match official. - Sapa-AP