The HSBC Waratahs came back from the depths of despair against the Chiefs to take the lead with three minutes to go at Allianz Stadium, then held on to win 25-20.
It didn’t seem likely: the Chiefs had taken the lead with with nine minutes to go and the Waratahs looked exhausted from all the defending they had to do. But after the Chiefs missed a long penalty kick from their own half, the Tahs restarted play on their 22, regathered the ball, and twelve phases and 80 seconds later scored under the posts at the other end of the park.
The Waratahs had bossed an out-of-sorts Chiefs team in the first half and led 15-0, but then came two unfortunate events for the Tahs: first, somebody sounded the siren for half-time, which stopped their momentum; and second, Sitaleki Timani tackled Tim Nanai-Williams in the general area of Tim’s mouthguard, and got the yellow card he deserved. It was three minutes into the second half.
Maybe it was because their opponents were a man short, or maybe it was because their coach Dave Rennie had given them the mother of all tongue-lashings at half-time – or maybe it was just the vibe, but it looked like the Chiefs had trotted out a different team for the second half.
They looked like a side that had won the Super Rugby tournament the year before, which they had. As much as the home team had all the hardness, skill, patience and confidence before oranges, so the visitors played afterwards.
The Tahs started the game with a hiss and a roar and some of their first-half moves looked like training exercises.
Brendan McKibbin had kicked a penalty goal early and at 14 minutes Adam Ashley-Cooper burst between two defenders and dished out to winger Cam Crawford, who was delighted to score on debut. But McKibbin missed the easy conversion; 8-0 Waratahs.
Apart from a few raids by the Chiefs towards Campo’s Corner, the Waratahs dominated the first half through aggressive defence, imaginative attack and good scrummaging. It was made easier because the Chiefs were on their heels a lot watching the play. The Tahs weren’t scoring, mind you; but at 37 minutes fly-half Bernard Foley cross-kicked perfectly to Israel Folau, who beat two defenders in the air and scored under the posts.
So, 15-0 at half-time to the Waratahs, and the Chiefs’ stars hadn’t done a lot.
[Drew Mitchell (Waratahs) injured his hamstring and Peter Betham replaced him after six minutes. At 14 minutes Tim Nanai-Williams (Chiefs) came on for Andrew Horrell, who broke his ankle.]
Then came the second-half Chiefs with the vibe – and the Tah’s yellow card. At 46 minutes the Tahs’ lineout misfired from 35 metres out from their line, Aaron Cruden ran through a gap and the Chiefs’ best player, reserve fullback Gareth Anscombe, got the ball and said ‘G’day’ to Folau as he passed him by, and scored.
In the next 25 minutes the Chiefs kicked two penalty goals to one, which made the score at 70 minutes, Waratahs 18 – Anscombe 13. The Tahs were still in the lead but they were doing a lot of hard defensive work and looked down and out.
That was when 137 -kilogram THP Ben Tameifuna got the ball two metres out from the Tahs’ goal line and after a sidestep, a jink, and a fend, scored an arsey try. After the conversion it was 20-18 Chiefs.
That signaled the end of the Chiefs’ vibe. The vibe switched sides; the Tahs trusted the systems they had put in place and worked their way up the field. Reserve hooker John Ulugia, of all people, elbowed Folau out of the way and took Foley’s pass to score the winning try.
Waratahs’ captain Dave Dennis mentioned that in the 45-to-70 minutes period the Waratahs had trouble playing in the Chiefs’ half. The Tahs had to be smart about it and think more about tactical kicking and doing it well. They had to get a balance and not become predictable.
Coach Michael Cheika said:
We’re actually better at getting in the other team’s half by running as opposed to kicking. When we try to game manage a little bit, we’re no good at it.
We’re not a real game-managing team […] we’ll play our style for now, until we get really good at it, then maybe after that we can think of throwing a few different things in.
The Game Changer
At 75 minutes and the score Chiefs 20 – Waratahs 18, the Tahs dropped out from their 22 and Cam Crawford recovered the ball. That started a series of twelve phases over 80 seconds, and John Ulugia scored the winning try.
The G&GR MOTM
Adam Ashley-Cooper had a marvelous attacking game for the Waratahs and made a break that lead to the try of Cam Crawford, who had a strong debut. The pack deserves mention for scrummaging well: it often had the back of the Chiefs’ scrum pointing in a direction they didn’t want it to.
But the G&GR MOtM gong goes to Israel Folau who made a defensive blunder but made up for it by being dangerous with his swerve, fend and offloading most times he had the ball.
Folau is firming as a Wallaby candidate for the Spring Tour and Ashley-Cooper is making it difficult for other Aussie outside centre candidates to be chosen for the Lions’ gig.
LHP Benn Robinson had no trouble in the scrums against a THP who outweighed him by 25 kilograms, and is also making it hard for his rivals.
Kane Douglas was another Wallaby who put up his hand for inclusion against the Lions.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Cam Crawford, Israel Folau, John Ulugia
Conversions: Brendan McKibbin, Bernard Foley
Penalties: McKibbin (2) Chiefs: 20
Tries: Gareth Anscombe, Ben Tameifuna
Conversions: Anscombe (2)
Penalties: Anscombe (2)
Cards & citings
Sitaleki Timani – Yellow Card (43 mins.)
Referee: Craig Joubert
Featured photo by AFPhotography