High error count in Sydney
The Waratahs left it till the final quarter before taking control and beating the Rebels 31-26 in their Super Rugby showdown in a wet Sydney on Friday.
Coming back from a 10-point deficit twice, trailing 6-16 at half-time, the Tahs rallied late to outscore their Aussie rivals by three tries to two.
It was an error-riddle game that never rose to any great heights - typical of the dour nature of most Aussie derbies, where the execution was shockingly poor.
One of the big culprits was Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley. Amongst a litany of errors he messed up two of he restarts - one not going 10 metres and another directly into touch, handing the ball back to the Rebels in favourable positions.
While some might suggest the defence was strong, the telling stat is that neither team managed to get over the advantage line with ball in hand in more than 60 percent of their carries - the result of that poor execution.
Then there was the high penalty count, with both teams approaching double figures by the end of the first half already. At the end of the game they had collected 30-odd penalties and free kicks between them.
It was very wet at the Allianz Stadium, following some heavy rain before the match. This may have contributed to some of the poor handling, but is not an excuse for the shocking skills that was on display.
The Waratahs, playing with a strong breeze at their backs in the first half, were as error-prone as they were last week in the loss to the Reds.
The Rebels' scrum was under pressure from the outset and the first set-piece penalty was not long in coming.
While the Tahs showed a lot more urgency after the break, their error count continued to mount.
However, they were greatly assisted by a Rebels team keen on beating them in this department - with a string of second-half penalties and a yellow card handing momentum to the Tahs. And the home team needed no second invitation, racing clear in the final quarter.
The Waratahs got some early reward for their intent to give the ball air, as Brendan McKibbin slotted a penalty when they Rebels transgressed on defence just outside their 22.
However, the Tahs soon returned the favour with a breakdown transgression just outside their own 22 and James O'Connor made it 3-all after just seven minutes.
A Scott Higginbotham intercept set up the next scoring opportunity. O'Connor pushed the penalty shot wide, after the Waratahs were penalised for killing the ball metres out from their line, but made amends when the Waratahs were again penalised for the fourth time for an offence at the tackle - 6-3 to the visitors as the first quarter came to an end.
The penalty count continued to mount against the home team and in the 23rd minute Tom Carter was lucky to only get away with a penalty, after tackling an opponent in the air and then landing on top of him. It was perhaps more reckless that malicious.
However, Tahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau was not as lucky, as he was sent to the sin bin for repeated offences at the breakdown, after the referee had issued a team warning moments earlier.
And Ged Robinson made the Waratahs pay for their erroneous ways, as he went over in the right corner after a smart move around the short side at the line-out. O'Connor added the extras and suddenly the Rebels had raced into a 13-3 lead.
McKibbin finally pulled three points back on the half-hour mark, when the Rebels conceded couple of breakdown penalties in quick succession.
Despite conceding a few more penalties, the Rebels eventually worked their way up-field and just over two minutes out from half-time O'Connor made it a 10-points (16-6) game again.
The Waratahs had a late shot at goal, after the Rebels conceded three penalties in quick succession and received a team warning. However, McKibbin hooked it badly and well wide - leaving the Rebels with a comfortable lead going into the break.
The Rebels were reduced to 14 men early in the second half, with the referee running out of patience and followed up on an earlier team warning by sending Laurie Weeks to the bin.
And McKibbin pulled three points back minutes later when the Rebels again transgressed at the breakdown - 9-16, with 28 minutes left on the clock.
Bernard Foley then got the Waratahs' first try, coming after some sublime interpassing and those off-loads finally sticking. McKibbin's conversion made it 16-all going into the final quarter.
The Waratahs finally hit the lead in the 65th minute, when Michael Hooper went over after a series of forward raids on the Rebels' line. McKibbin made it 23-16 with the conversion.
O'Connor, with the final 10 minutes approaching, made it a four-point game (23-19) with his fourth penalty of the match.
McKibbin kicked his fourth penalty of the match soon afterwards, as the Rebels continued to get on the wrong side of the referee at the breakdown - 26-19.
Paddy Ryan then scored his first try in Super Rugby, after another Rebels error handed the Tahs a free-kick five metres out and a quick tap caught the Rebels defence short.
Kurtley Beale managed a late consolation try for the Rebels, but that was never enough as the Waratahs recorded a 31-26 win.
Man of the match: James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale did their best to spark the Rebels on attack, while the visitors' defence contributed to them staying in the game. For the Waratahs Michael Hooper produced a huge workrate and scoring a vital try. However, in this game the real stand-out players were few and far between. Our award goes to Waratahs replacement Ben Volavola, who made an immediate impact after he took to the field early in the second half - getting involved all over the field.
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Foley, Hooper, Ryan
Cons: McKibbin 2
Pens: McKibbin 4
For the Rebels:
Tries: G Robinson, Beale
Cons: O'Connor 2
Pens: O'Connor 4
Yellow cards: Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs, 24 - repeated infringements at the breakdown), Laurie Weeks (Rebels, 48 - repeated infringements at the breakdown)
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Mitchell Chapman, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Ben Volavola.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 James O'Connor (captain), 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Richard Kingi, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Jordy Reid, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Angus Roberts, 22 Tom English.
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)