The NSW Waratahs have won their maiden Super Rugby championship with a heartstopping 33-32 final triumph over the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium.
A pressure-filled 45-metre last-minute penalty goal from five-eighth Bernard Foley snatched the Waratahs victory from the jaws of defeat in a drama-charged conclusion to a classic title decider.
The Crusaders paid the ultimate price for champion flanker Richie McCaw’s ruck infringement that allowed Foley to coolly slot the winning goal with just seconds left on the clock.
A record Super Rugby crowd of almost 62,000 – the most for a NSW home game in more than 100 years – witnessed the Waratahs’ historic victory.
The Waratahs had squandered an early 14-point lead to be on the brink of their third painful finals defeat at the hands of their New Zealand nemesis.
But Foley’s 23-point contribution from a conversion and seven penalty goals and a two-try effort from veteran centre Adam Ashley-Cooper – the official man of the match – proved just enough to deny the seven-time champions from Christchurch.
“I was hitting them well all night and it was probably right on my distance. I had to give it my all and the rugby gods were on our side,” Foley said.
Jubilant captain Michael Hooper admitted his heart was in his mouth watching Foley’s kick.
“I thought it went under, but it went over and I was ecstatic,” Hooper said.
“To seal out the game is monumental.”
The competition’s leading scorer, Foley finished the season with a tally of 252 points, the most by a NSW player in a single season, eclipsing Peter Hewat’s 244 from 2005.
The Waratahs’ nailbiting victory avenged painful losses to the Crusaders in their only two previous finals in 2005 and 2008.
It also completed an unbeaten 10-match home campaign with a club-record ninth straight win – and first over the Crusaders in a decade.
The Waratahs join the Crusaders, Blues, Chiefs, Brumbies, Queensland Reds and Bulls as only the seventh franchise to win a Super Rugby crown.
The Waratahs made a dream start, racing to a 14-0 lead in as many minutes through three Foley penalty goals and an unconverted try to Ashley-Cooper off a lovely short ball from centre partner Kurtley Beale.
The Crusaders had to score next to stay in touch – and they did with a clinical 70-metre counter-attack that ended with flanker Matt Todd crossing out wide in the 18th minute.
Dan Carter’s conversion put the Crusaders back to within a converted try, but another Foley penalty extended NSW’s lead to 17-7 in the high-paced point-a-minute opening half-hour.
But half-an-hour was all Carter lasted, with the Crusaders suffering a hammer blow when their champion playmaker succumbed to an ankle injury.
Five-eighth Colin Slade assumed goalkicking duties and slotted two penalties to nudge the Crusaders to within four points before Foley nailed another to give NSW a 20-13 halftime lead.
A controversial try to winger Nemani Nadolo, a Waratahs reject, and sideline conversion from Slade locked the scores up at 20-20 after 43 minutes.
Replays appeared to show Beale dragging Nadolo’s leg into touch in a desperate last-ditch cover tackle, but TMO George Ayoub felt otherwise.
Nadolo’s try and NSW’s loss of hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau with a leg injury a minute earlier handed the Crusaders the momentum, with the Waratahs penalised twice in two minutes for collapsing scrums.
Slade took full advantage to put the Crusaders in front for the first time.
Slade and Foley traded further penalties before Beale, as he did in the first half, threw the final pass for Ashley-Cooper to charge over from close range to restore NSW’s lead.
But two more Slade penalties looked to have broken Waratahs hearts until Foley stepped up to have the heroic final say.