Waratahs dip out, but close the gap

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A sure-fire tonic to the leather patch brigade is a coach from the leather face brigade. (Image: AAP)

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A phone caller yesterday morning reckoned the first time Waratah comeback centre Berrick Barnes touched the ball in general play at Allianz Stadium last night he would kick it. He did.

The result – seven points to the Cheetahs in the first two minutes on their way to a 27-26 victory.

But hold the phone, the Waratahs only put the boot to the ball 10 times in 80 minutes, coach Michael Cheika is at last getting the message through – ball in hand boys, ball in hand.

The 12,263 crowd were appreciative – that’s about a 1,000 more than last time, which was the Waratahs’ poorest ever.

But if the men in blue keep running and, more importantly, start winning, that crowd will double.

There was a lot to like about the Waratahs.

Those 10 kicks were the highlight compared to the Cheetahs 21, the Highlanders 22, and the Hurricanes 19.

So were the eight missed tackles by the Tahs to 19, and just four penalties conceded to 11.

Then the crunch. After all that good work, 19 Waratah turnovers to just nine.

Damn it. It was so frustrating.

The Tahs led at the break for the first time in four matches by 23-20, and led by the same score with 10 minutes to go.

But burly winger Raymond Rhule scored his second try for the Cheetahs, it was converted, and Brendan McKibbin landed a late penalty for 27-26.

Rhule was a standout, so too Cheetah half-back Sarel Pretorius, man-of-the-match for the second week in a row.

He never played like that for the Tahs last year, and had he been in blue last night, the Waratahs would have won. No doubt about that.

I have just one criticism of Cheika’s game plan – the number of forwards swanning in the backline.

Last night when there was a breakdown, there were always at least five Cheetah forwards on hand to two, maybe three, Tahs.

The obvious result, no contest, or turnover.

But Cheika and his men can take a lot of pluses out of last night, despite the loss.

Michael Hooper had his best game of the tournament, while winger Peter Betham switched from hero to villain twice.

The first was when Betham scored a great try through sheer determination, and moments later Hooper made a spectacular bust and Betham over-ran him.

Dumb rugby, and another try was bombed. Betham knew it too, and he gave himself a verbal uppercut.

Adam Ashley-Cooper did nothing wrong all night, he defended and ran strongly, resulting in a try near oranges.

New recruit Israel Folau is more at home every game, his one-season AFL high-marking came in handy three times to save the day.

Despite being howled down last time I mentioned it, Folau is wasted out the back. He should be using his size and speed in the midfield to create havoc, and have Adam Ashley-Cooper running off him.

But it was Hooper, and prop Paddy Ryan, who did the most damage up front.

Can’t see Test prop Sekope Kepu making it back in a hurry with Ryan in marauding mode, while locks Kane Douglas and Sitaleki Timani had their moments of glory.

They are big strong blokes who have a bit of toe, but don’t get the ball in hand enough. Wasted talent.

And those two words just about summed up the Waratahs loss last night – wasted talent.

It’s there, and high time they realised it.

Stick with your coach, he’ll get you there sooner than later.

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