Sarel Pretorius must start for the Waratahs

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Wycliffe Palu for the Waratahs. AAP Image/Tony McDonough

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The Waratahs won’t reach the Super Rugby playoffs while marquee half-back Sarel Pretorius remains on the bench. Last night the Waratahs did it the hard way in beating the Force in Perth 23-18.

While starting half-back Brendan McKibbin was on duty for 60 minutes, the Waratahs led 10-3 at the break and 17-3 two minutes into the second half.

But the Waratahs had enough ball in the first half to win two games, with 62% possession, spending 60% in Force territory, and 3 minutes 11 seconds in the Force 22 as against the Force’s 30 seconds in reply.

For the icing on the cake, the Waratahs won the rucks and maul 43-23.

Totally dominant for just 10 points, thanks to a pedestrian McKibbin who chocked a backline keen to run. The Waratahs should have cracked 30 points by half-time and the game would have been all over.

Had Pretorius started, a 30-point first half haul was almost certain.

With all that possession and territory, he would have had the backline hunting for the four-try bonus by the break.

The difference between McKibbin and Pretorius is the South African delivers the ball far faster from set and broken play. Berrick Barnes, Tom Carter and Rob Horne would have so much extra time and space to strut their stuff with that mountain of possession.

It was not to be. Hopefully by next week against the Rebels, followed by the tough assignment against the Crusaders, the half-back problem will be sorted.

From one-way traffic in the first half, the third quarter saw an incredible transformation. In that 20-minute period the Force came alive with 79% possession and were camped in the Waratah half and 22, forcing the visitors to defend as though their lives depended on it. The result certainly did.

By the 63rd minute the Force led 18-17 for the first time with a distinct sniff of victory. They had come from nowhere scoring two tries in posting 15 unanswered points, 10 of them while Waratahs full-back Bernard Foley was in the bin.

Game on.

The last 17 minutes ended up an arm-wrestle, the result up for grabs. But the Force lost their discipline under pressure by giving away three kickable long range penalties – Barnes landed two of them and that was that 23-18.

Surprisingly, the much vaunted Waratahs pack was at its best when benchmen Jono Jenkins, Paddy Ryan, John Ulugia, and the Timani brothers Sita and Lopeti took over late in the game.

For the Waratahs, David Dennis had a huge game, highlighted by his 30 metre sprint to touch down just after half-time after winning lineout ball, Tatafu Polota-Nau had his best game in weeks, Wycliff Palu was always dangerous, Berrick Barnes directed traffic apart from the odd wayward kick, and Pretorius livened up the backline, even though they were pretty much done.

For the Force David Pocock had a quiet game by his lofty standards in the first half, but burst forth in the second to claim man-of-the-match, while Matt Hodgson, Nathan Sharpe, Toby Lynn, Nick Cummins, and full-back-turned-fly-half David Harvey were outstanding.

Even though there were 18 Wallabies on duty, the game never reached that standard. But it was entertaining thanks to sensible and clearly understood refereeing from Kiwi Glen Jackson that had the 12,838 crowd involved from start to finish.

Jackson is the refereeing find of the year. In only his sixth game in control, the 36-year-old was fit, fast, and very much in control. He only retired in late 2010 but has been fast-tracked by the appointments board that deserve praise.

Jackson played 60 games as fly-half for the Chiefs from 1999-2004, accumulating 404 points, and 1505 points for Saracens from 2004 to 2010 over 130 games.

He is a breath of fresh air and will be in demand from all 15 franchises.

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