When the Waratahs were awarded a penalty inside the last minute of Saturday’s night Super Rugby final against the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium, NSW five-eighth Bernard Foley didn’t flinch.
He immediately stepped up to take the kick – even though from 43-metre the attempt might be slightly out of his range.
With the score at 32-30 in the Crusaders’ favour, he knew the game hung in the balance and only he could save the day.
Cool as a cucumber, Foley at least knew he was in a place he had been before – against the Blues at the Allianz Stadium last year, when his attempt just after the full-time siren sailed over to clinch NSW a home win.
One big difference: this time it was a Super Rugby final and before a 61,000-plus crowd on the edge of their seats begging for the Waratahs to win their first Super title.
Several teammates still came up to Foley with various words of encouragement, but as he recalled later he just “tried to brush them off” and just went through his normal kicking routine fully prepared to “live with the consequences”.
NSW Waratahs win Super Rugby final
Good for him, the Waratahs and their fans that his boot sent the ball through the posts for his eighth successful kick from 10 for the night – with seven penalties and a conversion.
Within a blink, ANZ Stadium was suddenly shaking to the roar of jumping and cheering Waratahs players, officials and fans – as the scoreboard read 33-32. The Crusaders were left in total despair.
“I knew it was right on my distance. I knew I didn’t have much left in it,” Foley said. “I had to give it a lot. The rugby Gods are smiling over us. It was just reward I suppose for what the team has done. To win like that is probably a dream come true.”
Foley admitted knowing he could handle such pressure kicks had helped, but that he had come to the final prepared for such an ending to a truly gripping final.
“These are big moments where you have to take the kick,” Foley said. “That’s why I did the extras after training. That’s why I would kick 100 balls a week. Normally I let ‘KB’ [Kurtley Beale] take the long ones … but I had been kicking them well tonight. That’s why you kick goals, to take that responsibility. I thought it would just sneak in if anything and it did exactly that.”
One irony not lost on Waratahs coach Michael Cheika was the role in the outcome played by his team’s kicking coach Andrew Mehrtens, the former All Black and Crusader star who had publicly tipped against the NSW side winning. “The two times he has tipped against us, we have won,” a beaming Cheika said. “The sucker punch has been ruled in, guaranteed. He can keep tipping against us, no problems whatsoever.
“They had the hangman’s noose out for him on Thursday, but in saying that [Foley] kicked a goal from 43 metres.
“[That was] probably just a touch outside his range, under pressure, under the guidance of Andrew; and even though he has had a small involvement around a day a week – and sometimes I have been there – every little inch counts
“In a way he has been a big contributor in relation to the result. I love the irony of the situation. There is no doubt about it.”
Foley also credited Mehrtens for having helped him kick from a longer range, saying: “We have worked in putting a bit more length in the kick. That proved a bit tonight.”
Cheika also said the way Foley embraced the moment, and with the backing of the team that knew what was at stake, symbolised the growth in self belief within the squad.
“Normally Bernard is kicking from 40m, that’s his range; but I saw the players really believed in him,” Cheika said. “There was no hesitation, no doubt. He just stepped up and said, ‘I’ll take responsibility for this.’ That really pleased me.
“Obviously, kicking the goal was pretty good too; but one thing we are trying to bring in here is [a] real acceptance of responsibility and not being scared to take on responsibility, or worried about losing or missing or not making a kick.”
Asked if the confidence of the Waratahs to back themselves made the difference on Saturday night, Cheika said: “I think so. It’s what we have done all year.”