Waratahs hold on in nailbiter
Waratahs hold on in nailbiterSHARE
The Waratahs kept alive their play-off hopes with a thrilling 25-20 win over the defending champion Chiefs in Sydney on Friday.
Outscoring the visitors by three tries to two, the Waratahs raced into a 15-0 half-time lead, before withstanding a second-half comeback by the Chiefs – who took the lead with under 10 minutes left on the clock.
And then the Tahs found one last burst of energy to score a match-winning try.
Despite a few early penalties, free kicks and knock-ons – mostly the result of some over-exuberance – the Waratahs showed great enterprise.
While the Waratahs were by no means flawless in the first half, they showed a desire which had been lacking in a number of their earlier matches this season.
In contrast, the Chiefs struggled to get their free-running, off-loading game going – with a string of errors robbing them of any chance they had of building momentum.
This was accentuated by the performance of some key players, in particular Gareth Anscombe – who came on as a first-half replacement for the injured Andrew Horrell.
It was telling that the Chiefs' comeback in the second half started when Anscombe scored a try after the Chiefs not only lifted their tempo, but also cut down on the errors.
And this was accompanied by the Waratahs' error count rising. Luckily for the home team, they regained their composure right at the end.
The match also had one of the more comical moments of the season, when Andrew Horrell was forced to hobble off old-fashioned style after the mobile stretcher failed to start up – resulting in some frantic scurrying by the medical staff.
The Waratahs showed great intent and intensity from the kick-off and early reward with a third-minute penalty by Brendan McKibbin.
And they got more reward when Adam Ashley-Cooper easily bust out of the tackle of Aaron Cruden, before off-loading to rookie Cam Crawford for the game's first try – a simple set-piece move. McKibbin failed to add the extras – 8-0 after 16 minutes.
The Chiefs continued to fumble their way through the game and in the 28th minute Gareth Anscombe hit the upright with a penalty attempt, only to be matched by McKibbin a minute later.
Just before the half-time break Bernard Foley produced a sublime foot-pass, with Israel Folau getting above and between two defenders to collect the kick and sprint over for a great try. McKibbin's conversion made it 15-0.
And the Chiefs' troubles were compounded when Anscombe missed a penalty shot after the half-time hooter – leaving the home team with a 15-point lead at the break.
Early in the second half the Waratahs were reduced to 14 men when Sitaleki Timani was sent to the sin bin for a ridiculous high tackle.
It was Gareth Anscombe who finally opened the Chiefs' scoring, as the visitors increased their tempo and Anscombe exposed the Waratahs' brittle defence. He added the conversion to make it 7-15.
McKibbin stretched the lead with half-an-hour remaining, before Anscombe pulled six points back with penalties in the 55th and 62nd minutes – 13-18.
McKibbin pulled a penalty attempt wide in the 65th minute, before the Chiefs launched another furious raid on the Waratahs line.
And the reward came when prop Ben Tameifuna worked his way over the line from close range – just reward for the young prop. McKibbin's conversion gave the Chiefs the lead for the first time in the game going into the final 10 minutes.
It sparked the Waratahs back into life an John Ulugia was on the end of a move that started near halfway and saw the Waratahs take the ball through multiple phases. McKibbin's conversion made it 25-20 with just over two minutes left on the clock.
The Chief threw everything into an attempt to get a late winner, but the Waratahs found enough energy to hold on for a deserved win.
Man of the match: Gareth Anscombe, after a error-riddled first half, got his act together after the break to play a key role in the Chiefs' attacking forays. Fritz Lee and Liam Messam were instrumental in the Chiefs' second-half comeback, while Young Ben Tameifuna was a real workhorse – both on defence and with the ball in hand. For the Waratahs Tatafu Polota-Nau threw his body into tackles with reckless abandon. Israel Folau not only scored a sublime try, but for a player who is supposedly weak on defence he produced a number of great try-saving tackles. However, our award goes to Waratahs flank Michael Hooper, who showed his true value on defence and at the breakdown – epitomised in that crucial turnover two minutes from time just after his team had regained the lead and the Chiefs looked to hit back.
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Crawford, Folau, Ulugia
Cons: McKibbin 2
Pens: McKibbin 2
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Anscombe, Tameifuna
Cons: Anscombe 2
Pens: Anscombe 2
Yellow card: Sitaleki Timani (Waratahs, 43 – foul play, high tackle)
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Mitchell Chapman, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Pat McCutcheon, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Peter Betham.
Chiefs: 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Richard Kahui, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (captain), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Michael Kainga, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 August Pulu, 21 Gareth Anscombe, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)