In another stressful night for Michael Cheika, the NSW Waratahs struggled to impress the crowds until late into their match, defeating the Melbourne Rebels 31-26 over the weekend.
Similar to last week, the Waratahs were deceptive in their first few minutes, turning the ball over and forcing a penalty from the Rebels within the first three minutes. They took an early lead, but these were the last points scored by the Tahs until late into the half.
The Rebels managed to maintain consistent possession, creating gaps, running the ball and using the Waratahs’ messy play to their advantage, posting a 10-point lead by half-time.
Although the Waratahs struggled to maintain possession, examples of excellence were seen with the forward pack, especially Ben Robinson, running the ball up and pushing through the defence.
However, as a result of the team’s poor discipline, Tatafu Polota-Nau spent ten minutes in the bin.
The Rebels soon took advantage of the extra man, sending Ged Robinson over the line from a short throw in. By the 27-minute mark the Rebels were in total control leading the match 13-3.
Again, like last week, the Tahs continued to miss opportunities, with dropped balls and poor passes, only being able to post another three points to the board after a penalty in the ruck.
By the 38-minute mark the Rebels were again ahead by ten points after another ruck infringement by the Waratahs.
It was only the few minutes after the half time siren that the Waratahs were able to hold possession for a significant time, running the ball and passing it down the line with continuing phase play.
However, they were unable to convert their effort into points, after a missed penalty attempt, leaving them trailing the Rebels 16-10.
After the now weekly Michael Cheika half-time talk, and the substitution of Tom Kingston with Ben Volavola, the Waratahs returned to the field with energy and put the pressure on the Rebels to stay ahead.
After a few messy minutes, the Waratahs turned the tables, creating gaps in the Rebels defence, passing the ball along the line, and using minimal strategic kicking.
Within minutes the forwards had made a massive 30-metre run up field, with great offloads, and after an unlucky call the Waratahs found themselves ten metres from the try line.
Putting great pressure on the Rebels scrum, the Waratahs were rewarded with a penalty and as a result of more poor discipline Rebels player, Laurie Weeks, was yellow carded. Only minutes later the Waratahs were on the board for the first time in the second half scoring three points with a penalty.
Making several school boy errors, the Rebels soon found themselves on the back foot in their own 22 after losing a throw-in, engaging early in a scrum and then leaving gaps in their back line.
The Waratahs pounced on these opportunities, with quick hands through the back line and great phase play, eventually finding Bernard Foley over the line after a good pass inside from Folau. The conversion was successful and scores were level with 20 minutes to go.
With more courageous plays, the Waratahs were finding gaps in the Rebels defence, making metres down field and were again metres away from the try line. After a great eleven-phase play, Michael Hooper was over the line, putting the Waratahs in front for the first time since the beginning of the match, leading the Rebels 23-16 in the 66 minute.
Both teams continued to give away penalties and by the 72-minute mark both teams had converted a penalty, bringing the score 26-19. However, the Waratahs continued with their attacking flair, putting pressure on the Rebels defence and again making it to the opposition 22-metre mark.
Five metres from their try line, the Rebels failed under the pressure, giving away a free kick for taking too long with their lineouts. It was this opportunity that saw Paddy Ryan over the line with only five minutes left in the match, bringing the score 31-19.
However, the Waratahs were unable to finish the match on a high after releasing the pressure on the Rebels and playing messy rugby.
They provided the Rebels with a penalty only metres from the tryline which Kurtley Beale converted into a try under the post, bringing the scores 31-26 in the last minute of the match.
Although a messy match and loose in rucks, this win is proof that the Tahs do have an ability to play fast, adventurous, running rugby and with work on basics and better first halves, the Waratahs can be a hard team to beat.
Hopefully next week against the Brumbies they will be able to play two halves of great running rugby.