SYDNEY (AP) — The New South Wales Waratahs will host the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final after beating the ACT Brumbies 26-8 in a tense all-Australian semifinal on Saturday.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley scored a spectacular late try among a personal tally of 16 points as the Waratahs reached the final for the third time and won the right to host the championship decider for the first time.
New South Wales scored an opportunist try in each half to lead 11-8 at halftime and 19-8 before Foley's 78th-minute clincher.
Winger Alofa Alofa scored an intercept try in the third minute to give the Waratahs a lead they never relinquished, and center Kurtley Beale stripped the ball from an opponent to score a decisive try after 48 minutes.
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper, the leader of the defensive effort, welcomed his team's eighth straight win and their long overdue venture to the final. Hooper said hosting the tournament decider against the Crusaders was "new territory for us but exciting territory."
"We talked before the game about taking opportunities but we had to make them tonight," Hooper said. "We came up with a few, I won't say lucky tries, but tries we built under pressure and we'll take that ... we're in the final and we're stoked.
"Defense wins you games and it was really good tonight, really good to see the big boys doing the hard work."
Earlier, the Crusaders beat South Africa's Sharks 38-6 at Christchurch to reach the final for the 11th time and to close in on their eighth title. The Crusaders won the most recent of their seven titles in 2008 when they beat the Waratahs 20-12.
While the Crusaders' win was one-sided, achieved by five tries to none, the Waratahs' win over the Brumbies was hard-fought and owed a great deal to the resilience of their defense.
They were both the best defensive and best attacking side in the competition throughout the regular season and their semifinal win highlighted both of those faculties.
The Waratahs allowed the Brumbies only one try, through winger Henry Speight in the 30th, and otherwise weathered intense pressure late in the first half and throughout the second.
On attack, they capitalized on the few chances that fell their way. Alofa's and Beale's tries were both constructed out of nothing but Foley's reflected the outstanding attacking ethos of the Waratahs and their ability to instinctively combine when a scoring opportunity occurs.
The Brumbies were hot on attack and winger Joe Tomane — Speight's replacement — stretched the defense down the right flank before hurling a misguided pass infield. The ball was reclaimed by Waratahs prop Benn Robinson, who took the first steps out of defense, and it was around that initial turnover that the try-scoring movement coalesced.
The ball was ferried through eager sets of hands — Israel Folau and Rob Horne among them — before reaching young lock Will Skelton, who embarked on a run which tore the defense apart. When Skelton was finally claimed by the cover defense, he had the skill and the vision to turn the ball infield to Foley, who dashed the last 25 meters to the line.
"We had more than enough opportunities inside their 22 to come away with a lot of points and you've got to give credit to the way the New South Wales guys held on," Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said.
"They defended really well, they dismantled our maul, which has been a real strength of ours, and they're obviously the best defensive side in the competition for a reason."
New South Wales 26 (Alofa Alofa, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley tries; Bernard Foley conversion, 3 penalties), ACT 8 (Henry Speight try; Christian Leali'ifano penalty). HT: 11-8.