Waratahs run away with the Weary Dunlop Shield - Green and Gold Rugby
Melbourne Rebels

Waratahs run away with the Weary Dunlop Shield

Waratahs run away with the Weary Dunlop Shield

The Waratahs have kept their finals hopes alive, beating the Rebels 50-23 in a see-sawing encounter at Allianz Stadium.

Photos courtesy of Peter Mitchell.

The Match

The game started in the worst possible way for the Rebels, with captain Reece Hodge being carried off in the opening minute after a nasty head knock. Thankfully that didn’t deter the visitors, who looked good in the early stages and took the lead with a Ben Volavola penalty after six minutes.

The lead would last about 30 seconds though, with the Waratahs scoring one of their best tries of the season. Set up by some beautiful tight five interplay from Will Skelton, Sekope Kepu and Tom Robertson, the try was scored by Nick Phipps after a linebreak from Bernard Foley.

The Rebels were unperturbed by the early score, and worked back into the game well. They built possession and territory, and were helped by incredibly poor discipline from the Waratahs. They kicked a penalty goal to narrow the margin to a point, and then were helped further by a yellow card to Tolu Latu for repeated infringements. They took the lead soonafter, with Amanaki Mafi crashing over from close range after cleverly taking a quick tap from a scrum penalty. Volavola couldn’t add the extras, and the Rebels lead 11-7 after 20 minutes.

Despite conceding seven unanswered penalties, the Tahs were still in the game. They started to get some possession and the points began to flow. Michael Hooper made a nice break down the right side of the field, and found Phipps inside with a pass that was clearly forward. The officials didn’t pick it up, and the Tahs scored two phases later in the corner through Dean Mumm. It was a double-strike, with Ned Hanigan scoring soonafter following some nice forward buildup.

The tide had well and truly turned, and the Waratahs finished the first half on a high, with Israel Folau scoring out wide after a typical wrecking ball effort by Taqele Naiyaravoro. It was 24-11 at the half and the home side were well on top.

Starting the second term hard was a non-negotiable for the Rebels, and they didn’t shirk that responsibility. Sean McMahon was leading from the front, and he found Mafi in space to set up a promising raid. Then the big moment came for the visitors- Foley was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on, and the Rebels scored from the ensuing quick tap through Jonah Placid. Volvavola slotted the conversion from the sideline, and the margin was back to six…

… but only for a minute. Despite being down a man, the Waratahs were the next to score, with Folau getting his second after a Rebels knock-on gave the home side possession in their attacking 22.

The see-sawing nature of the game was exhilarating, and the Rebels were the next to score. Despite the Tahs being hot on attack, a sloppy knock-on gave the Rebels possession, and a Mafi break was finished by Placid in the corner, completing a 80m effort. Would the Tahs hit back? You bet. Another try for the highlights reel, with Hooper finishing a series of short passes on the left hand side, the best being by that man Foley.

Finally the dam seemed to burst, and the Rebels just ran out of gas. The Waratahs iced the cake with a try to Damian Fitzpatrick after a big bust by Ned Hanigan, putting them in bonus point country. Bryce Hegarty touched down after the siren to complete the rout, although the game was anything but.


tahs v rebels-2


Random Observations

Bernard Foley is the most important player in Australian rugby right now, and it’s not even close. He had another fantastic game, and an injury to him right now would be nothing short of a disaster. More and more he resembles a league halfback, playing flat to the line, directing traffic and occasionally clapping on the pace to get through a gap. It’s great to watch.

I can’t help being a bit disappointed in Lopeti Timani. He burst onto the scene last year, establishing himself as a front line Wallaby by the end of the season. But he has struggled for game time and form, and was fairly anonymous again today. There were one or two nice touches, but I need to see more, and I think Michael Cheika does too.

Michael Hooper had another amazing game. Are we sure he doesn’t have an identical twin, who he swaps with at half time? And that this isn’t some sort of Parent Trap rugby scenario? His motor is simply unbelievable. Whenever a break was made, there was Hooper. His game sense is incredible, and his defense was up to it’s usual standard as well.

Amanaki Mafi is probably the best player in the Aussie conference, and has single-handedly kept the Rebels pack together this year. He was huge again today – the size of Skelton with the dynamism of Hooper.

Will Skelton is in great form right now, and I expect him to play a key role for the Wallabies this winter. He probably won’t start, but I love the idea of him coming into the game with 15-20 to play and throwing his considerable weight around. He was in full beast mode today.

I’ll also give credit to Angus Gardner. I’ve always thought a game of rugby works best when a referee is strict in the early stages, setting the standards from the opening whistle. This was true today – he made a number of tough (but fair) calls early on, and the game opened up marvelously as a result. Both teams knew where the line was, and broadly adhered to it throughout the rest of the game.

The Waratahs did a really nice thing pre-game. Four local junior clubs were playing on the field as a ‘curtain raiser’, and then remained on the field during the warm-ups to watch both teams go through their paces. They were pretty young kids but they were clearly buzzing to be so close to the team as they warmed up.


tahs v rebels-5


The Game Changer

The try to Israel Folau in the second half kept the Waratahs in the game despite playing with a man in the sin bin. It kept their noses in front, and gave them the self-belief which saw them kick away in the late stages.


The best player on the field was Michael Hooper, who was just everywhere. He edges out Bernard Foley and Amanaki Mafi, both of whom were also outstanding.

Wallaby watch

I wouldn’t be suprised if Tyrel Lomax is a Wallaby bolter (if we can get him to commit to Australia). He had a great game. Marika Korobeite continues to improve, and Israel Folau looks to be back in form. A quiet game from Rob Horne though.

The Details

Crowd: 15,469

Score & Scorers

Waratahs 50
Tries: Folau 2, Mumm, Hanigan, Phipps, Hooper, Fitzpatrick, Hegarty
Conversions: Foley 5
Rebels 23
Tries: Placid 2, Mafi,
Conversions: Volavola
Penalties: Volavola 2

Cards & citings

Latu (repeated infringements), Foley (deliberate knock-on)

  • Adrian

    Nice write up
    Much as I predicted in my comment on the preview, …except that the Tahs “started” 25 minutes later than I predicted.
    Well done Tahs, and good for Australian Rufby

    • McWarren

      Adrian, I don’t know how the Tahs walloping the Rebs is good for Australian rugby. A good win no doubt, but what will be good for Oz rugby is if they can beat two kiwi teams in a row. Fingers crossed they don’t give away so many penalties next week.

      • Adrian

        I only meant good, because a few guys are getting into form, which is good for the Wallabies and Australian Rugby

        • McWarren

          yeah agree, I said in a previous post that that was the best game I’d seen Hooper play for a long time. His typical energy but really effective especially at the break down. I also thought some of the Rebs guys did okay even though they were trounced.

        • Brumby Runner

          Actually, looked to me that Hooper decided to contest the rucks only after Latu was penalised and YCed. He was quite effective over the ball when he did change his game.

  • Jason

    I’ve got to say I haven’t seen a referee officiate a game as well as Angus Gardner this season. He’s been the best referee in Super Rugby this season, he’s always all over the calls, misses very little but most importantly, he’s incredibly consistent. He doesn’t do what some referees do and see he missed a call and overcorrect (think Paul Williams in Reds v Waratahs) and when he does make a mistake he owns it and communicates that to the players.

    • Bobas

      Not many reffs would have dismissed the rucking footage.
      Great balls to give that a warning due to its accuracy.

      • Keith Butler

        In fairness, if Hanson had gone then Mumm should have gone as well for blatantly cynical cheating.

      • Pedro

        It was pretty obvious live too. I think the ref thought mumm should’ve released when instructed. But yeah, anything could’ve been called.

  • Tim

    I thought the judgement on Lopeti Timani was a bit harsh. He made a lot of tackles and a lot of good runs. Volavola needs to learn how to tackle. The tahs will get a very rude shock when they vs the two nz teams in the following weeks as they take advantage of penalties and yellow cards.

    • Nicholas

      NZ teams this season against SA and AUS teams win by and how ever they want. It seems that they play avg. for 40 then in the second half they put 40 on you.

  • Pedro

    Nice write up Hugh. I gotta say the atmosphere was great, both sets of fans cheering loudly. That was good to see considering rain was predicted for the match, it could have been very sparse.

  • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

    As a Tahs fan I’m happy we won. No make that ‘relieved we won’. However those penalties just are not being addressed. Nothing against the Rebs, who played well, but 7 penalties against a full strength Rebs or any decent team will most likely see us losing the game.

  • Bobas

    Apart from one linebreak where Hooper never even looked to his support this was one of the best games I’ve seen him play.

  • Brumby Runner

    The game pretty well panned out as I thought it would and posted in the preview – Foley to step up big time for a fairly easy win to the Tahs.

    That said, I disagree with the comment about Timani. The way I saw it, he had a good game, and made more metres with ball in hand than Skelton. His defense was also strong. But he started to fade towards the end probably due to lack of match fitness. As you say, he’s missed a lot of time this year to various injuries/suspension as I remember.

    Also, very good to see Folau back at 15 and back in form. His move to 13 was an experiment that went wrong.

    • Braveheart81

      The ESPNscrum stats have Skelton making 37m and Timani 20m. That’s with Timani playing a bunch more minutes than Skelton and in the back row where you’d expect him to run the ball more.

      I don’t think Timani is really making a great case to retain the starting number 8 jersey for the Wallabies right now.

      • Pedro

        Skelton made all of those metres in one line break through right?

        • Braveheart81

          A reasonable number of them certainly. I don’t think anyone is arguing they are like for like though. If Skelton gets a run in the Wallabies this year it’s as a reserve lock. Timani is vying to be the starting number 8 as he finished last year there. Currently I’d be starting Higginbotham at number 8.

        • Pedro

          Just stirring the pot mate. I agree 100%.

          Also Skelton sucks in a bunch of defenders every hit up, potentially thinning the d line for the next runner so metres aren’t everything.

  • Rob Malcolm

    Wallaby watch
    Disappointed with Tolo Latu – over-eagerness or dumb giving away early penalties, some poor line outs, and not the most solid scrum. He needs some stern coaching.
    Agree Timani was too quiet compared to last year’s form. He needs a rev up.
    Sean McMahon didn’t really have consistent impact, but enough glimpses and getting game time after such a long time off. Hopefully he’ll be back to his best in the next month. So important.
    Hooper, Foley and Folau were looking good.
    Phipps season is improving. One glaring knock-on; but defence, the speed of the clearance and his understanding with Foley were good.
    Good to see Hodge wasn’t badly injured. The Rebs really missed him.

    I’m hoping Cheika uses the first 3 tests to find young combinations and to make some of the hard calls about the older players that are not in form – specifically to cut out some of the “dead wood” that are not going to be around for RWC ( eg Moore, TPN, Mumm, Q Cooper). Don’t have the those older guys that are not in good form clogging up places in the squad.

    • Andy

      TPN? He’s been the best hooker this season out of all the Oz teams. He’s also only 31. Not that old for a font rower.

      • Rob Malcolm

        You’ve caught me out there. Haven’t sighted TPN to be honest. If he is playing well then would be happy to have him in the 23. And thought Heath Tessman (aged 32) had a great game v KIngs. Just wishing for a young bloke to form a partnership with Sio and Alaalatoa to take us through to Japan.

        • Brumby Runner

          TPN hasn’t been too bad this year generally, but he had a real shocker v the Highlanders imo. Still in the running for the June test matches though.
          OTH I am not a fan of Tessman.

    • McWarren

      Who is your young guy back up flyhalf? Unfortunately at the moment an injured Cooper is still our best bet.

      • Rob Malcolm

        Slightly unfair question, as in the “when did you stop beating your wife?” variety. The bench doesn’t have to have the next-best fly-half necesssarily. Let’s assume a 5-3 bench split. We need a back who can cover flyhalf, fullback and inside centre. That used to be Beale, but for me Beale is 15. My 3 fininishers atm are Phipps, Hodge and Hunt.

  • AB

    I was at the game and think your write up is very accurate, Hooper and Foley were key for the tahs, and good to see Izzy getting some more involvement and confidence. I just have to re-iterate how bloody good is Amanaki Mafi – seriously he was everywhere – he is both gutsy and extremely talented – was so impressed and he is not doing Lopeti Timani any favours when you compare the two! it does disappoint me that when chosen by both Tonga and Japan at the last world cup he has decided to play for Japan. I know the lure of the All Blacks or other top countries must be strong for Pacific Islanders, but to chose Japan over Tonga makes me very concerned about the future of Pacific Islands on the International stage…

  • Missing Link

    After the Waratahs 75th Penalty in a row, Gardner pulls Hooper aside to have a chat, Hopper says “don’t bother saying anything I know what you’re going to say” then walks away and Gardner has to pull him back to say “Michael, Michael, just have a chat to your players”

    The next time Gardner talks to Hooper about the Tahs discipline, Hooper tells Gardner “things just aren’t working out for us at the moment”

    This was all heard clearly over the ref’s mic. He can probably get away with it with Gardner but If you are wondering why we get hammered against international refs like Poite, Peyper, Owens etc. it’s because they think we are arrogant twats.

    • Braveheart81

      Some of the media have praised him for those comments saying it was a good way to handle the referee at a time when his players were infringing.

      • Missing Link

        I think Hooper got away with it because Gardner is also an Aussie. The trouble is when you introduce a foreign ref who doesn’t know how to interpret Hooper’s tone, it can come across as a lack of respect and a sign or arrogance. I think it’s part of the issue with NH refs flogging us, we need to approach them like attending a job interview, not like your having a dig at your mate over a few beers.

        • Braveheart81

          I think it’s hard to know without studying a lot of interactions with referees by lots of captains. It definitely seems to me that a successful captain does need to be pretty assertive with the referee. You don’t want to come across as arrogant but you also don’t want to come across as weak that you’re in the wrong because the referee is likely to continue with that assumption. It’s a fine line and I don’t think any of our captains have been doing it well in recent years.

          It doesn’t seem to me like wanting the captain to be less assertive with the referee in case they come across as arrogant is necessarily a good thing though. I think we tend to revert to that position and then get walked all over. The other side’s captain convinces the referee that we’re in the wrong, our captain humbly apologises to the referee and talks to the players that they have to reduce the penalties and then that cycle keeps repeating.

    • moaning expat

      He also said- Ill talk to them about it and get it sorted -or words to that effect. Hooper was basically saying “dont bother saying anything im on it” in a way that was respectful and telling the ref he was frustrated at his own side.

      wasnt arrogant at all

  • HomerJ

    Hooper is a great player but he is not a Captain’s asshole.
    Twice the ref pulled him aside and said talk to your team and get control. Hooper said i am doing my best and then walked back and said nothing to his side.
    Every All Blacks/Kiwi Captain uses these opportunities to pull the team together and refocus them.
    The second time it happened the Tahs were on their own try line. What better opportunity to take the steam out of the Rebels momentum and focus your team. Nope. Not Hoops, he complains to the ref that his teammates wont listen to him and then ignores his team.
    Great footballer, but give the leadership duties to someone else.
    The best part of the tahs display was their support running. Hasn’t happened all year but was great yesterday.

  • Brendan Hume

    This game was like watching two U16 teams going at it. Everyone’s trying but the basic skill level is just way off – not looking after the pill, giving away penalties or cards under pressure. The turnovers from both teams were just doing my head in.

  • McWarren

    This was the best game of rugby I’ve seen Michael Hooper play in a long time. Lets hope he brings this to the Wallabies.

  • Andy

    Hard to judge how good the Tahs were considering how bad the Rebels are. Seriously, they wouldn’t be a certain contender if they were in the Shute Shield. I know it’s mainly due to injuries but still, they are so shit. Their defensive effort was woeful. Easily the worst I have seen at this level.

    They have maybe 3 or 4 players who look like they actually give a shit. And 1 is not even Australian.

    If there was ever a case to say we should only have 3 teams, this weekends results proved it.

Melbourne Rebels

Can't write, can't play. Tahs and Wallabies.

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