The Waratahs have shown that there is life without Israel Folau, recording a 23-20 win over the conference-leading Rebels in dewy conditions at the SCG. The Rebels would dominate the majority of the first half, scoring two tries to lead 20-7 at the break. However, an inspired second half from Bernard Foley and the centurion, Michael Hooper engineered the comeback victory that puts the NSW side inside the top 8 and within four points from the top of the conference.
The first half would be dominated by both sides trading kicks as the dewy surface wreaked havoc on ball handling.
The Waratahs would earn the first real chance at points after they caught multiple Rebel players offside just inside their half. However, the chance was instantly wasted after Bernard Foley failed to find touch for the 2nd straight time in the first 10 minutes.
The Rebels would make no mistake when given the opportunity for points after a Sekope Kepu high tackle, with Quade Cooper converting the penalty from 35m out to put them ahead 3-0.
The Waratahs would respond after a strong run from Johnson-Holmes from a Rob Simmons offload put them in prime field position. Adam Ashley-Cooper would find the line on the next phase after a lovely cut out ball from Karmichael Hunt found Jed Holloway, who drew the fullback to put Ashley-Cooper over the line to push the score out to 7-3 NSW.
The Rebels would strike back almost immediately, with Billy Meakes crossing untouched after some sloppy play from both sides, particular Alex Newsome, gifted Meakes with the easiest of tries to restore the Rebels margin, 10-7.
They extended their margin, after Reece Hodge sliced through a huge gap in the Waratahs defence, strolling under the black dot despite claims from the Waratahs of infringement by Koroibete on Newsome during a contest for the ball in the lead-up play.
This advantage was increased right on half time after an incorrect joining of the ruck by Michael Wells gave Reece Hodge the opportunity to boot over the resulting penalty from near halfway to leave the score 20-7 Rebels at half time.
The second half would start with the Waratahs attacking the Rebels goal-line for the best part of the first 15 minutes. They would be rewarded for the prolonged pressure with a pair of penalty goals to Foley bringing the score back to 20-13.
The Waratahs would level the score after Foley showed greater commitment to the loose ball than Quade Cooper, pouncing on the overthrow from Rangi at the lineout to race 50m to continue the comeback.
They would take the lead in the 62nd minute, when Foley continued his perfect night with the boot, converting a penalty shot to put the Waratahs in front 23-20.
The Rebels would have a chance to level the scores at the 70th minute, however, the penalty attempt from Hodge would hit the upright and bounce back into play.
Their fortunes would go from bad to worse, with Sam Talakai yellow carded after multiple infringements from the Melbourne side throughout the second half.
The Waratahs looked certain to control the game from here, however for some strange reason they decided to kick the ball away with 2 minutes to go, giving the Rebels one last chance to score points.
Fortunately for the Waratahs, their defence held strong after 15 phases of Rebels attack, causing the turnover in the end and securing the victory 23-20.
The Turning Point
The half time break seemed to slow down any momentum that the Rebels had in the first half, with the Waratahs controlling the territory and possession after the break, allowing them to manufacture the comeback victory.
The GAGR MOTM
Despite his slow start, Bernard Foley was instrumental to the Waratahs comeback. He was perfect off the tee, accounting for 18 out of the Waratahs’ 23 points and his general kicking along with the commitment and lack of self-preservation shown during his long-range try was ultimately the difference between the two sides.
The combination of Beale and Hunt at 12 and 15, along with Ashley-Cooper worked wonders for the Waratahs in attack, who were given a strong platform by the likes of Simmons, Johnson-Holmes and Hooper.
From the Rebels, the standout performers were Jones (as always), Genia, Naisarani and Hodge, who certainly put his hand up for the open fullback/utility back position with the impending loss of Folau.
Tries: Ashley-Cooper (18’), Foley (57’)
Cons: Foley 2/2 (19’, 58’)
Pens: Foley 3/3 (48’, 53’, 62’)
Tries: Meakes (23’), Hodge (37’)
Cons: Cooper 2/2 (24’, 38’)
Pens: Cooper 1/2 (13’), Hodge 1/2 (40’)