The Waratahs tested the faith of their supporters with a below-par performance against the Hurricanes last night, losing 17-28 at Allianz Stadium.
The Tahs were led on to the field by Dean Mumm and Matt Carraro who were playing their 100th and 50th matches respectively. Congratulations to both of them on their achievements. As it transpired, there wasn’t much more for the Tahs faithful to celebrate. Referee Chris Pollock celebrated his 201st First Class match but was probably not quite up to his usual high standards.
Early physicality by the Tahs was not sufficiently sustained throughout the match and defensive line speed will no doubt be mentioned in team meetings this week.
Referee Pollock was called into action early in the match, awarding a penalty to the Hurricanes after he ruled that Tahs halfback Nick Phipps kicked the ball back into the scrum as the Tahs were shoving the Canes backward. Replays were inconclusive and Phipps was adamant he hadn’t transgressed, but he is a halfback and therefore not to be trusted. Fortunately Canes flyhalf Beauden Barrett was astray with the shot at goal.
Shortly after, Tahs number 8 Wycliff Palu tackled Canes lock Michael Fatialofa high and this time Barret made no mistake, setting the scoreboard attendants in action posting the score line 0-3 in favour of the Hurricanes after 8 minutes. The Tahs had started aggressively and physically but now seemed to waiting a little in defence.
A little bit of aggro at the 11 minute mark seemed to distract the Tahs a bit and some sloppy play ensued, eventually leading to an offside penalty against Tahs fullback Andrew Kellaway that allowed Barrett to increase the Canes’ advantage to six points. 0-6 to the Canes after 12 minutes.
The Tahs have been using an unusual/innovative/”personnel appropriate” defensive format from lineouts for a long time now and on a couple of occasions in the match the Canes looked to test that structure either through a kick-pass to the open side wing or by moving the ball there through quick hands. They managed to find space there more than once, and a chip kick resulted in a successful retrieval by Barrett who proceeded to run in a try at the 17 minute mark. Unconverted, the score was posted on the board: 0-11 in favour of the visitors who were looking full of confidence.
But the Tahs didn’t lie down and reverted to some hard-nosed pick and go Rugby for a while, eventually wearing the Canes defence down sufficiently for giant winger Taqele Naiyaravoro to crash over from close range in the 26th minute. The try was duly converted by Bernard Foley and the score went to Tahs 7 – Hurricanes 11. The Tahs had their tails up at this stage and started to exert pressure through field position as the rain started to tumble down in Sydney.
Both teams knuckled down and settled into the battle for a while without threatening to awaken the scorekeepers until some crazy in-goal action from halfback Nick Phipps almost gifted a five pointer to his opponent T J Perenara. The horror, the horror that is the burden imposed upon Tahs fans. But, to the relief of thousands, the officials correctly detected a knock forward and the Tahs were able to exit their danger zone with half time looming. Two quick penalties in succession allowed the Tahs into the Canes territory where centre Willis Halaholo was adjudged to have tackled Bernard Foley high. Yellow card after the 40 minute mark and the subsequent penalty was guided through the sticks by Foley, taking the score to Waratahs 10 – Hurricanes 11 as the players jogged off to the sheds.
The Tahs looked full of energy at the restart and a great chase by young Andrew Kellaway put pressure on the Canes. The Tahs resumed the pick and go strategy used with some success and Israel Folau displayed great footwork to beat three defenders and strength to carry two more over the try line in the second minute of the second half. Bernard Foley converted and the score changed to Waratahs 17 Hurricanes 11.
No doubt coach Gibson would have smiled thinking that if only they can keep this going.
Coach Gibson’s smile would have been wiped from his face a few minutes later as Cory Jane benefitted from Canes pressure resulting from a partially charged down Foley kick. Janes’ try was converted by Barrett and the Hurricanes went to an 18-17 lead after 47 minutes.
A transgression by the Tahs going off their feet at the breakdown was punished by Barrett and the lead increased to Hurricanes 21 Waratahs 17. 55 minutes gone and the Tahs faithful were starting to chew their fingernails.
The fingernails were momentarily spared but the Tahs fans’ despair elicited collective groans of “oh no” when Naiyaravoro had some sort of moment of madness as he recklessly took out Beauden Barrett in the air. It was only good fortune in Barrett landing relatively safely and unscathed that saved Naiyaravoro from being issued with a red card. But he did receive a yellow card and trotted off at the 57 minute mark. Tahs coaching staff took the opportunity to bring on fresh legs and Sam Lousi replaced Skelton, who had up to now had a mixed performance.
The Canes exploited their numerical advantage and their giant winger Julian Savea crossed for five points, allowing Beauden Barrett a regulation conversion that took the score to Hurricanes 28 Waratahs 17 after an hour.
To their credit the Tahs struggled on manfully without inspiring any great hope that they might actually win the match. Naiyaravoro went close in the 72nd minute following good work by replacement flanker Jack Dempsey but was bundled into touch a metre from the line by T J Perenara and Michael Hooper almost scrambled over in the next minute following a poor lineout by the Canes.
But the Tahs failed to click into gear at any stage and the match spluttered to an unsatisfying finish with the score remaining Hurricanes 28 Waratahs 17.
So the Tahs missed an opportunity to go the top of the conference but their finals hopes survive. Just. Next week, the Brumbies host the Force while the Tahs travel to Auckland to face a resurgent Auckland Blues. It’s a slender thread of hope for the faithful.
Final scores: 28-17 in favour of the Hurricanes.
The Game Changer
The Tahs need to be more efficient and effective in set piece and exit plays. Their failure to execute these more conclusively gives hope to opposition teams who look to attack the Tahs at these moments. That said, the Tahs scrum was mostly OK and managed to put significant pressure on the Canes on a number of occasions, and I am sure that the Crusaders will be taking a mental note of that.
The G&GR MOTM
Beauden Barrett. Always threatened. Marshalled the Hurricanes well.
One to forget. Wipe the tape Cheik.
Score & Scorers
Tries: B Barrett (17), C Jane (47), J Savea (60)
Conversions: B Barrett 2
Penalties: B Barrett 3
Tries: T Naiyaravoro (26), I Folau (42)
Conversions: B Foley 2
Penalties: B Foley 1
CARDS & CITINGS
Yellow: W Halaholo (40), T Naiyaravoro (57)