The NSW Waratahs deservedly hold top spot in the Australian conference after a six-try demolition of the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park Friday.
The Rebels were coming off a controversial last-minute win against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium the previous week, the club’s first competition victory in, or against, Queensland. A repeat performance against the Waratahs would give Melbourne their first sweep of conference opponents in a season, having also defeated the Force and Brumbies in 2014.
The Waratahs were on a high after putting five tries past the Lions in a 41-13 mauling, their attacking style of play shown in all its glory at the right time of the year, that elusive trophy never closer for the long-suffering NSW fans. A win against the Rebels would be their third in succession, and would hand the Waratahs top spot in the conference as the international break approached.
The Rebels made one late change before kick-off, with Tamati Ellison unable to recover from a knee injury from training, replaced in the starting line-up by Telusa Veainu. Lalakai Foketi came onto the bench.
The Waratahs were uncompromising from the start, their fierce attack breaking through the Rebels defence, only stopped by Mitch Inman clattering Adam Ashley-Cooper to concede a kick at goal in the first minute. Kurtley Beale stepped up at his former home ground but failed to capitalise, striking the upright.
The Rebels defence was forced into desperation mode, in what would be a running feature of this match. Luke Jones was caught off his feet whilst trying to slow a NSW breakdown and gave the Waratahs another shot at goal. This time, Bernard Foley took the honours and converted, giving the visitors a 3-0 lead after six minutes.
If their scintillating attack in open play didn’t stamp Waratah authority on this match, the first try would. After gaining possession from a penalty, Nick Phipps sent a bullet pass to Bernard Foley in the centre of the ground on the 10m line. Foley popped an inside pass to the running Rob Horne, who broke through the line and cut the Rebels defence to pieces. Horne ended a brilliant run in the corner to touch down for the Waratahs’ first try. Foley missed the conversion, leaving the score 8-0 after 12.
The Rebels strung a good set of plays together and suddenly found themselves in the match. Paddy Ryan was caught offside after the return, and the Rebels took the opportunity to immediately close the gap. Jason Woodward made no mistake and put the Rebels on the board, 8-3 after 14. The hosts continued to force possession into their attacking half, and soon after won another penalty for catching the Waratahs offside. Woodward again converted to narrow the margin to two, 8-6 after 24.
The Rebels were close to getting the ultimate reward for their purple patch, when Tom English broke through the Waratahs’ line, but would settle for another shot at goal when he was brought down illegally by Kurtley Beale on the last line. Woodward made no mistake, and the Rebels held the lead for the first time in the match, 9-8 after 27.
The Rebels’ ascendancy would be short-lived, Colby Fainga’a conceding a penalty on the return for hands in the ruck. Bernard Foley converted the easy kick to give the Waratahs back the lead, 11-9 after 29.
Jason Woodward would have a shot at goal to regain the lead after Paddy Ryan conceded another penalty, but the fullback couldn’t convert from the wide position.
Instead, the last word of the first half would go to the Waratahs. The visitors took a penalty to get the ball close to their line, and as the Rebel defence tried desperately to keep them at bay, Kurtley Beale spun a low ball to Adam Ashley-Cooper, who turned his tackler and fell over the line for the Waratahs’ second. Foley couldn’t convert the try, and the score jumped to 16-9, where it would remain at half time.
The teams traded penalties in the first ten minutes of the second half, Jason Woodward converting one to peg the margin back to four, Bernard Foley replying to return the gap to seven.
These Waratahs would not be held to trading kicks, however, their attacking pressure only growing in magnitude as the game marched on, the Rebels not helped by losing Pat Leafa to a yellow card at the start of the half. When the Rebels won a scrum deep in their own half, the NSW forwards bullied the usually-reliable Rebels pack, the gulf in class apparent when Michael Hooper stole the turned ball and waltzed over the line unchallenged for the Waratahs’ third try. Foley missed the conversion and the margin rose to 12, 24-12 after 56.
The match was looking more and more like a forgone conclusion, but Telusa Veainu ensured at least one twist in the tale, intercepting a shocking pass from Israel Folau deep inside the Melbourne half, and seeing off a late run from Alofa Alofa to deliver the Rebels a coast-to-coast opening try. Jason Woodward nailed the wide conversion and the margin was cut to 5, 24-19 on the hour.
That would be the last good news for the Rebels, on a night where the Waratahs would not be stopped. Minutes later, Nick Phipps broke the line for Bernard Foley, who popped the ball to a covering Kurtley Beale to touch down and secure the bonus point. Foley converted and took the score to 31-19.
With eight minutes remaining, Adam Ashley-Cooper broke the line to take the ball deep into the Rebels’ half, the ball spun quickly into the hands of Israel Folau, who scored his tenth try of the Super Rugby season, tying a club record. Kurtley Beale missed the conversion and the score went to 36-19.
Brendan McKibbin sealed a comprehensive win for the visitors, receiving a break from Israel Folau to bustle over the line in the shadows of full-time. Kurtley Beale couldn’t convert, and 41-19 would be the score that retained the Weary Dunlop Shield for the Waratahs, and threw the lids off thousands of NSW fans’ dreams for 2014.
The Game Changer
Michael Hooper’s try defined the match. The Rebels forwards tried valiantly to protect their line, but they were simply outclassed by a Waratahs team determined to cast them aside. Seeing that, I knew the Tahs were the real deal.
The G&GR MOTM
Bernard Foley was spectacular all night. He had his back line on a string the entire night, and had a hand in all six tries for the Waratahs. For the Rebels, Ben Meehan was a picture of composure at scrumhalf in his run-on debut. He handled himself very well and shows great promise.
Kurtley Beale didn’t have a great night in front of goal, but his transformation since returning to the Waratahs cannot be understated. He looks comfortable in the centres, and as a ball-runner in the combinations the Waratahs set up. With Folau a lock for the 15 jersey, it’s great to see Kurtley adding more strings to his bow.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Veainu 60′
Conversions: Woodward 1/1
Penalties: Woodward 4/5
Tries: Horne 11′, Ashley-Cooper 37′, Hooper 54′, Beale 64′, Folau 71′, McKibbin 78′
Conversions: Foley 3/4, Beale 0/2
Penalties: Foley 3/4, Beale 0/1
Cards & Citings
Leafa – Rebels (Repeated Infringements) 40′
12,477 at AAMI Park.