The Western Force upset the defending champions at home, winning 25-15 in a scrappy first round display.
Images courtesy of Keith McInnes photography
It was a typical round 1 affair, with plenty of stoppages and pretty poor handling. But it was the Force who came away with the chocolates, humiliating the Tahs on their home turf for the first time since 2013. They dominated in the forward pack and swarmed all over the Waratahs backs, and showed plenty of good signs for the coming season.
The Waratahs looked short of a run, and their big players didn’t stand up under pressure. They looked sluggish, and while their set piece was strong they lacked the speed and accuracy that defined their 2014 campaign.
The first half was a stop-start affair, typified by Waratah dropped ball, botched Force lineouts and collapsed scrums. The Force drew first blood with a penalty to Sias Ebersohn, to which the Tahs quickly hit back with three points of their own to Bernard Foley. Unfortunately the game had to be delayed at that point after an unfortunate neck injury to Pek Cowan.
Despite the Tahs gradually getting on top, the Force hung in there and after a Benn Robinson try was disallowed they broke away downfield. Nearing the line they were thwarted by an offside Wycliff Palu, who was given ten minutes in the bin for his troubles. The Force scored from the ensuing penalty, with Chris Alcock dotting down after a brilliant driving maul from the visitors.
Despite being a man down the Waratahs dominated the final eight minutes of the half, but were let down by poor handling. Centres Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper were having shockers, and it was sapping the life out of the Tah backline. The halftime score was 8-3 to the visitors, with the game well in the balance.
The Force started the second half on the front foot, and only took six minutes to register their second try, with Angus Cottrell crashing through some weak Waratah defence from close range. Ebersohn added the extras and the Force led 15-3. With the game slipping away the Waratahs worked their way back into the match, helped by a newly found scrum dominance. Alby Mathewson was given a yellow card for a cynical ruck offence on the Force line, and Rob Horne scored in the corner after a clever Nick Phipps quick tap.
This proved to be a false dawn for Waratahs supporters, with the home side continuing to make basic errors. The Force kept coming, and were rewarded with a try on the counter-attack to Luke Morahan, after some scrappy work at the back from NSW. The Force had the game in their hands, and were playing like they had five extra men on the field. They swarmed on last year’s champions and soon had a bonus point try to reserve prop Francois van Wyk, who intercepted a desperate Kurtley Beale chip.
The Tahs salvaged some pride late with a try to Rob Horne from a backline set-play from a lineout, but the game was gone. The Force were too good, too strong and won 25-15.
It was a classic Force display, led by a cohesive forward unit. Ben McCalman was a standout, along with Angus Cottrell, Nathan Charles and Chris Alcock. For the Waratahs I was impressed with Sekope Kepu, Will Skelton and Israel Folau. The other 12 blokes were, putting it bluntly, rubbish. But as we all know championships aren’t won in round 1, but this match shows the competitiveness of the Australian conference this year. If you don’t bring your A game you’ll be out on your arse.
The Game Changer
It was early in the game, but I thought Benn Robinson’s disallowed try was a turning point. Had he held onto the ball the Tahs would probably have scored in the ensuing phase, but he reached out was rightly penalised. The Force scored quickly from the penalty, with Cliff Palu also ending up in the sin bin. 14 point turnaround, and then some.
The G&GR MOTM
The most impressive Force player for mine was Ben McCalman. The big dog was at his very best, bullocking over Waratahs and making big hits. Showed up the experienced Waratahs pack. Nathan Charles was also impressive, along with Junior Rasolea.
Plenty of Wallabies in Waratah blue, but only Sekope Kepu, Will Skelton and Israel Folau had games to be proud of. Angus Cottrell had another great match for the Force, proving he will be pulling on Wallaby gold sooner rather than later.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Horne 2
Tries: Alcock, Cottrell, Morahan, van Wyk
Cards & citings
YC: Palu, Mathewson