The comp starts for both teams with a must-win game. The Force desperate to stay in Super Rugby, the Waratahs desperate to re-establish after the disappointment of last season. All the players desperate to lay down their individual markers. And then the rain, desperate to ruin the spectacle.
In conditions in which only a Kiwi team would have looked good, both teams battled hard. The Force had the better of the first half but as the game wore on the Tahs expressed their dominance and won the match.
Waratahs 19 – Force 13
Conditions were breezy and wet. The Waratahs kicked off, Latu won a turnover penalty at the ruck, Robinson kicked for 3-0. After the kick-off Latu won another turnover penalty at the ruck, Robinson kicked 6-0. Then the Force turned the game around through better field kicking, very fast defensive linespeed and dominating in the tight work. Kepu got a yellow card for a second maul collapse inside the 22 and the Force camped there until Lowrens and Lance combined for a converted try under the sticks. Force 7-6. Robinson got another penalty for 9-7 but the Waratahs were not looking dominant.
Tahs popgun kicking to clear their line was not helping. The Force got two further kickable penalties to go into half time at 13-9. They kicked everything in their own half as you do when its wet.
Waratahs went onto attack at the start and Phipps tapped a penalty 10 out and passed to Skelton, who bulldozed over. Converted by Robinson to give the Waratahs the lead 16-13. The Waratahs then went close after a great run by Horne. TPN came on at 49 minutes, but Waratahs won the scrum penalty and went to the corner.
Then the big game moment. Skelton took a conventional lineout jump and grab. Who said he couldn’t? The subsequent rolling maul was stopped half a metre short for a turnover. Then a bad high tackle by Meakes on Hooper was only a penalty (look for a post game referral to the judiciary). Waratahs kicked to the corner, won the lineout and the lineout maul was held up over the line. The Force turned it over at the ruck and cleared. Lots of Tah pressure had yielded zero points.
The Force cleared and then followed a period of Force dominance which again exposed Hegarty’s short clearances. Coleman then was penalised for a deliberate knock down, There was a massive maul run by the Waratahs which ended agonisingly close followed by a turnover and Force clearance.Then at 72 the Tahs got a scrum penalty that Robinson kicked for 19-13. Hardwick, who had played well, picked up a yellow card for a tip tackle but Robinson had his first miss for the night so the score remained unchanged.
The Tahs domination in the second half got them the result but three tries from mauls went begging. Both teams will be buoyed by their intent and attitude but have a lot to work on to improve their performance. Hegarty’s clearances are Foley-lite but Robinson’s kicking was first class. When he missed his last attempt I almost went into shock. Simone looked good in his first outing, but will relish a dry track.
The Force showed lots of good tonight and I think if they keep developing they will be third in the Australian conference. They finally have a team with enough class to achieve that. They will get less sympathetic refs and need to adjust their discipline though. Their newbies did not look out of place – Rona and Peni were excellent.
The Game Changer
Skelton’s try turned the game around and the Waratahs never looked back.
The G&GR MOTM
Lots of players were serviceable and Latu had a blinder in the first half but my MotM goes to Will Skelton for his dominant performance in the second half.
Folau and DHP were pretty anonymous, though DHP kicked well but blotted his copybook with an awful knock-on. Hooper was Hooper and Latu went well. Mumm and Coleman looked good and Lance was totally composed under pressure.
Score & Scorers
Penalties: Robinson (4 from 5)
Penalties: Lance (2 from 2)
Cards & citings
Yellow: Sekope Kepu (team infringements collapsing the maul). Richard Hardwick (tip tackle).