Round 14: Surely the most important round of the 17 in the season. Only two games have no bearing on the finals make-up, and several games are make-or-break for both teams, with a loss consigning the loser to an away final or no final at all. Arguably, this game was the most crucial in the whole round.
For the Chiefs, a loss would catapault them out of the home final and rely on other teams losing to get back. Charlie Ngatai was still out with concussion and Michael Leitch is gone for the season. For the Waratahs, a loss would put them out of the finals from where it would be almost impossible to return. Kurtley Beale and Jed Holloway are gone for the season also, as is Ben Robinson. Both teams have lost their star 8 and 12 players.
Right from the kick-off the game was on. The Chiefs had the better of the first half but were down by four at half time. They scored first after the break but then the Waratahs clicked into gear and ran away with the match to win.
Waratahs 45 – Chiefs 25
Tahs kicked a penalty to start 3-0. Then the Chiefs began what looked like some unstoppable offloading to have the Tahs under the pump till Folau took a huge intercept and ran 80 metres to score. Converted by Foley, 10-0. The Chiefs surged back on attack and Timanivalu put a through kick that Phipps fumbled over the line and Chiefs scored. Some bad Tahs kicking saw the Chiefs on attack again and with their offloading proving unstoppable they scored again through Cruden who missed the conversion. 10-10.
Palu then got a yellow card for a neck roll cleanout. McKenzie missed the shot at goal. There was lots of niggle in the rucks and the referees missed a headlock tackle by the Chiefs on Hooper. McKenzie kicked for goal successfully. 10-13 to the Chiefs. The Waratahs held out (just) till Palu got back and then Palu made a half-break, off-loaded to Skelton who ran 20 metres and then got a one-hander away to Hooper who scored. Foley converted to make it 17-13.
The Chiefs were dominant in the half with their off-loading game but went into half time four points behind.
After some dynamic play from both teams, Harris scored for the Chiefs in the corner; not converted by McKenzie. Chiefs 18-17. Then the Tahs picked up their running game, using the fact that the Chiefs were not engaging at the breakdown to pick and go up the middle and off-loading in the tackle. Kellaway scored a great team try and Hooper then scored an even better one with most of the team handling in the lead-up phases. Waratahs 31-18. Lousi then obstructed at the kick-off and the Chiefs kicked to the corner. The Tahs disrupted the lineout maul and ran the ball out. Some dynamic running from Mumm, Folau and others got the ball to 5 metres out and a knock-on by the Chiefs led to a dominant scrum which was followed by repeated Waratah charges and desperate Chiefs defence. Controversially, a try was awarded to Folau by the TMO who ruled the pass from Phipps was flat. Waratahs 38-18.
Gibson emptied the bench which was later to prove a mistake. The Waratahs made a couple of crazy defensive kicks and the Chiefs pounced, scoring from a Cruden cross-kick to Pulu. Converted from the sideline, it meant there was less than two converted tries between the teams. Dempsey scored a great try to make it 45-25 and despite great efforts by both teams that’s how it ended. Carraro went off injured before the end leaving the Waratahs with only 14 on the field.
It was a tremendous game of rugby played by two great teams with the right attitude. Ten fabulous tries, fierce tackling on both sides, great off-loading, passing and running. You couldn’t ask for better.
The Waratah’s scrum clearly got on top in the second half, both the run-on front row and the finishers. If you saw the first four weeks you would not have believed it! And the lineout functioned well against Bird and Retallick too!
The braindead decision by SANZAAR to change the bonus point system was shown in all its glory. Both teams deserved a bonus point for the way they played and the tries they scored. Neither got one.
Jaco Peyper twice reversed decisions on knock-ons after it was clear from the screen that the AR had missed it. I doubt it fitted the protocols, but it was fair as both were obvious, and indeed if they had been ruled correctly the Tahs would have had another try (and a bonus point). Given the clear offsides the AR’s missed and a foot on the line that wasn’t, neither AR covered themselves in glory. They were the worst performers out there.
Gibson’s use of the bench was problematic. He pulled Horne off early despite him having a great game and appearing to be uninjured and ended up with only 14 players on the field for the last three minutes.
The Game Changer
Three unanswered tries in the middle of the second half turned the game. It stemmed from the Tahs attacking directly as the Chiefs stood off the rucks and then off-loading once the break was made. Great NZ-style rugby played back at them.
The G&GR MOTM
It is hard to find a bad player on either team. Folau was immense but my MOTM was Dave Dennis. He was a giant among tall men tonight.
All the Wallaby players played well, including those who no one seems to like. Dave Dennis played his best game one week too late.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Michael Hooper (2), Israel Folau (2) Joe Dempsey, Andrew Kellaway
Conversions: Bernard Foley (6)
Penalties: Bernard Foley
Try: Seta Tamanivalu, Aaron Cruden, Nathan Harris, Toni Pulu
Conversion: Damian McKenzie
Penalties: Damian McKenzie
Cards & Citings
Yellow cards: Wycliff Palu