Rugby: Bad memories fuel for Tahs

By Jim Morton

History shows there have been 18 hyped-up yet fruitless campaigns for the Waratahs.

But the 2008 Super 14 final at Christchurch's renovated Lancaster Park stands as the one that got away.

A night where the Tahs, guided by a teenage Kurtley Beale, led 12-3 and had a long-awaited title in their grasp before it all spun out of control.

Coach Michael Cheika's 2014 Waratahs can bury enduring painful memories of that 20-12 heartbreak tonight by repaying the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

No opponent has turned the Tahs' Super Rugby dreams into nightmares like the Cantabrians. Eleven straight defeats in the past decade, a record 96-19 humiliation in 2002 and two triumphs in deciders - 2005 and 2008.

Six years ago, with Ewen McKenzie as coach and boasting an all-Wallabies forward pack, the Waratahs more than threatened to spoil the Robbie Deans farewell party with two early tries.

Young winger Lachie Turner scored both. The first from a pin-point Beale cross-kick, a premeditated plan to attack the narrow Crusaders defence, that came off.

The second came after a Phil Waugh intercept and break. Despite Turner calling for centre Tom Carter to toe ahead, Carter gave it to the speedster who chipped 45m out and regathered for a nine-point lead after 25 minutes.

Turner recalls everything was going perfectly as the Tahs were playing with the pace and urgency that new halfback Luke Burgess had brought since his mid-season promotion.

"We had such a quiet confidence about the game," said Turner. "We built momentum through the season and played with great speed."

But weight of possession resulted in a Crusaders try with Richie McCaw putting No8 Mose Tuiali'i over in the corner just before halftime. Eventually the Crusaders' relentless pack, Dan Carter's goalkicking and an ankle injury to Beale ensured the hosts lifted the trophy for the seventh time.

"It was hard to put into words what we felt at the end," Turner said. "It was just disbelief."

Current winger Rob Horne, an 18-year-old rookie centre in 2008, can't forget how the Crusaders pack ground them down.

"They came over the top of us pretty well and they backed themselves to do that," he said.

While Turner also remembers a torn hamstring to Waugh being crucial to the second-half turnaround, McKenzie believed Beale's ankle injury was the turning point.

"It was a frustrating game that one," the coach said. "I thought we had done enough.

"Lachie Turner got a double and Kurtley was killing it ... but Carter's boot won it.

"We were going gangbusters with 20 to go but Kurtley busted his ankle."


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