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Secret behind the Tahs victory

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

SYDNEY - It started with a golf club and ended in a fairytale maiden major championship.

But this wasn't Adam Scott at Augusta.

No, this was the NSW Waratahs, Super Rugby champions at last after 18 long-suffering years for their fans and two painful near misses for the competition's — until now — perennial under-achievers.

But who would have thought every NSW player would depart ANZ Stadium after Saturday night's gripping 33-32 final victory over the Crusaders with a golf club in their hand.

Cunning coach Michael Cheika, that's who, with star playmaker Kurtley Beale revealing how their master motivator used the clubs all season to liberate and reinvigorate the Waratahs.

"He gave us a club before the game and all year he's been telling us to go out there and let the clubs go," Beale said after putting centre partner Adam Ashley-Cooper over for two tries in the epic decider.

"So basically he's saying go out there and just trust your instinct, back your gut feeling and go out there and deliver a really good performance and basically it's obviously stayed with us throughout the whole year."

Two years ago, when the Waratahs won just four games, they were regularly booed off the park by their own, disillusioned fans.

Now Cheika has the Tahs swinging from the hips.

His revolutionary style yielded a first-ever minor premiership, endless point-scoring records, a nine-match winning streak and ultimately victory over Super Rugby's most accomplished outfit in front of a tournament-best 61,823 fans.

"The whole year we've been trying to play a certain style of football," Beale said.

"I think we've done that and with symbols like the club and letting it go and really swinging it and not really giving a damn about anything else.

"I think it's really rubbed off on a lot of the players and hence why you see a lot of the guys go out there playing.

"For example, Will Skelton this year has absolutely come of age and really delivered and shown some of his skills."

The NSW forwards endured pre-final taunts from across the Tasman about their supposed "soft underbelly", but Beale said the Waratahs couldn't have won the title without their oft-underrated pack.

"The whole year our forward pack has delivered above expectations," he said.

"They're the guys who have actually really let us backs out wide do our thing."

Even with a wobbly lineout, it was the pack toiling away at the death as the Crusaders closed in on a third heartbreaking final win over the Waratahs when referee Craig Joubert penalised champion Crusaders flanker Richie McCaw for illegally entering the side of a ruck.

Then up stepped ice-cool five-eighth Bernard Foley to drive home the last-minute match-winning penalty goal from 44 metres with, of course, the same sweet follow through as Adam Scott at the Masters.

"I knew it was right on my distance, I knew I didn't have much more left in it so I had to give it a lot and I think the rugby gods were smiling because it just snuck over," Foley said.

"Normally I let KB (Beale) take the long ones, but I'd been hitting them well tonight and I thought it'd probably be my responsibility."

Apart from urging them to swing freely, that's all else Cheika has really sought from his Waratahs: to accept responsibility for the side's daring new attacking approach.

After shaking the gorilla from their back and burying the demons of a decade of despair against the seven-time champions from Christchurch, Ashley-Cooper said the Waratahs now have a new responsibility.

"We've kind of, in a way, climbed a mountain. It's about staying on top," he said.

"So it's a whole new set of challenges ahead of us and something that I'm sure this group will be pretty eager to embrace."

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