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26 May 2008 08:46
Ewen McKenzie rates Saturday’s Super 14 rugby final as the ultimate challenge as he pits his wits against the Canterbury Crusaders’ incoming Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.
The NSW Waratahs coach has put behind a season of off-field turmoil to steer the Sydney team to their second Super rugby final against the six-time southern hemisphere provincial champions in Christchurch.
McKenzie, who continues to embarrass NSW Rugby officials after they decided mid-season not to renew his coaching contract beyond this year, has the chance to outsmart the man who beat him for the Wallabies job.
Deans, for his part, is leaving the Crusaders on his terms, hoping to lead his team to a seventh Super title before becoming the first-ever foreign coach of the Wallabies next week.
Debate still rages over the manner of McKenzie’s dumping, amid reports he may yet be offered the job for next year given the Waratahs’ sensational season to come from 13th last year to second this season.
“He [Deans] has obviously been the best coach in the competition,” McKenzie said Monday. “I can’t say what the win-loss record is.
The ledger is well and truly in his favour.
“I look at it as a challenge from a coaching point of view ...
“[But] you have to have the players, the belief, the tactics. I think we have done that pretty well.
“But the Crusaders is the ultimate challenge. To get credibility, you have to be able to beat teams like that.”
The Waratahs outplayed South Africa’s Sharks to win their semifinal 28-13 here on Saturday to reach the final.
Sharks coach Dick Muir said Saturday’s final would throw together the best two sides in the competition.
“The team that takes their opportunities will win that one,” Muir said.
The odds heavily favour the Crusaders claiming their seventh Super rugby title after winning through to their ninth final in 11 years.
The Waratahs have not beaten the Crusaders since 2004, and in addition to losing their past five encounters with Canterbury, they have won just once in eight attempts in Christchurch since the tournament’s inception in 1996. - Sapa-AFP
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