The Waratahs habe defeated the Melbourne Rebels 23-20 in Michael Hooper’s 100th match for New South Wales.
On a dewy night in Sydney the visiting Rebels made multiple changes. Jack Maddocks replaced Semisi Tupou in the starting line-up along with Richard Hardwick, Matt Gibbon, Anaru Rangi and captain Matt Philip. The Waratahs were without the obvious exception of Israel Folau and also Ned Hanigan. Michael Hooper and Jed Holloway came into the starting side and Curtis Rona was placed on the bench.
The Rebels lost speedster Jack Maddocks in the third minute due to a failed head injury assessment. He was replaced by former Reds player Campbell Magnay. The Rebels struggled early with ill-discipline, conceding three penalties inside eight minutes. The Waratahs were unable to capitalise on these mistakes, though, as Bernard Foley missed a kick for touch and instead sent it rolling over the dead-ball line. A high tackle by the Waratahs in the 11th minute gave Quade Cooper the opportunity to kick the Rebels into the lead, and he duly obliged.
Momentum changed quickly, however, when a Rob Simmons offload put Harry Johnson-Holmes through a gaping hole on the Rebels ten-metre line. A quick recycle allowed Jed Holloway to find space on the left wing, and with options outside and inside, he popped it inside to Adam Ashley-Cooper, who cantered in for the first try of the game. Bernard Foley kicked the conversion over to give the Rebels a four-point lead after 20 minutes.
The Rebels then took the lead four minutes later when Reece Hodge accelerated through a gap in the Waratahs defensive line to score under the posts for a converted try. The try was somewhat controversial due to the fact that Marika Koroibete appeared to have impeded Waratahs winger Alex Newsome in a contest for a high ball. The ball landed on the ground and into the hands of a Rebels player and Hodge scored from the next phase.
After the half-time siren Michael Wells infringed at a Rebels maul (from the lineout), which allowed Hodge to add another penalty goal to the Rebels score as they took a 20-7 lead into the break.
The second half saw the Waratahs take the ascendancy. Knock-ons were traded by both sides but it was the Rebels’ poor discipline that brought the Waratahs back into the match. The Rebels conceded five penalties between the 46th and 56th minute, which allowed Foley to slot home two penalty goals. The Tahs were now within striking distance and capitalised on a Rebels’ lineout mistake. Anaru Rangi overthrew at the set-piece and Foley beat his opposite number, Cooper, to the ball. With no-one placed at fullback for the visitors, Foley outpaced his opponents to the line and brought the Waratahs level with the Melbourne side.
Another two penalties conceded by the Rebels meant referee Damon Murphy placed them on last warning. It also allowed Foley to score another penalty kick and take his personal points tally to eighteen points.
When replacement Sam Talakai infringed in the 71st minute, the Rebels eighth penalty of the half, referee Murphy had seen enough and delivered him a yellow card.
Despite the Rebels’ best efforts, the Waratahs were not to be denied, and they clung on to record a 23-20 win. The win for the Tahs means the Rebels have not beaten their rivals from north of the border since 2016.
The Waratahs will next week face the Sharks from South Africa, a side reeling from a seven-point loss to the Reds. The game will be played at the new Bankwest Stadium in Western Sydney.
The Rebels have the bye next week before travelling to Wellington in Round 12 to take on the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium.