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 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.
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.
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 G&GR MOTM
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.
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.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Folau 2, Mumm, Hanigan, Phipps, Hooper, Fitzpatrick, Hegarty
Conversions: Foley 5
Tries: Placid 2, Mafi,
Penalties: Volavola 2
Cards & citings
Latu (repeated infringements), Foley (deliberate knock-on)