Are the Waratahs a real threat to overseas teams this year? Are the Lions too inconsistent away from home? We were about to find out tonight.
The first half was full of action with the Waratahs on top for the first twenty, but just unable to make that decisive break. Malcolm Marx was the outstanding forward, making several turnovers and one almost-try. Then around 20 minutes in the Lions made the only score of the half. They pick-and-drove just over half way, chip-kicked to centre-field and the result was a try to Tambwe, who was dangerous every time he got near the ball. Converted by Jantjes for 7-0.
The rest of the half was a series of almost scores for the Waratahs, each time a little skill error just as they were through meant the Lions held them out. Naiyaravoro this week was double and triple teamed and looked distinctly underwhelming. The Lions’ scramble defence was very impressive; half breaks were contained and every Lions player showed desperation to get to the man and shut down the attack. On the balance of play the Waratahs probably had the better, but just didn’t finish and went in to oranges seven points behind.
After half time the Lions were full of vim and the Waratahs looked jaded.The Lions kicked a penalty to touch for a 5-metre lineout and Kwagga Smith scored from a half-maul. The Waratahs only pushed one side and Smith went through from the other. Lions 12-0 Then Vorster went over after some great Lions pressure. Jantjes converted for 19-0 and the game looked over.
From here on in the Waratahs set piece (scrum and lineout) fell to pieces. They were losing both and the breakdown was a complete Lions domination. At 50 minutes, Gibson went to the bench but nothing much changed. Marx made another turnover with the Waratahs hot on attack in the Lions 22.
At 60, the Lions went to the bench and the finishers did just that. Even with Marx and Smith given a rest, the two best players on the field, there was no let up. At around 70 minutes the Lions took a shot at goal, their first shot of the match, and the score was out to 22-0. Schoeman scored a converted try on his debut to finish it off and the game ended at 80 with a bit of a brawl and a final scoreline of 29-0. You are reading that correctly. In 80 minutes the Waratahs didn’t score a point!
No, the Waratahs on tonight’s display are no threat to the good overseas teams.
There was no lack of consistency on the Lions behalf tonight.
They looked good and got a very valuable bonus point. Not without fault but they covered up really well. On tonight’s performance they will give the Reds a touch-up next week, but I didn’t see enough tonight to think they’ll do the Hurricanes or the Highlanders. They will however, be very competitive. Marx, Smith and Tambwe, along with Whiteley are their stars and they’ll go close to making the final again.
Big reality check. Some thought they might have made some substantial improvements this year and I know last year was awful, but they are still not competitive with the top five teams. They were out-gunned at the breakdown, massively so, and the backs found out what happens when the other side makes their tackles and deprives them of space. They lost the set pieces and desperately need the bye to regroup and find some answers before the Kiwi blitzkreig starts. On tonight’s form they’ll even lose to the Blues, and that takes some doing.
The Game Changer
Kwagga Smith’s try off the back of the maul signalled the end of the Waratahs’ chances tonight.
The G&GR MOTM
Two players on the field were absolutely outstanding: Kwagga Smith and Malcolm Marx. Both deserve the gong, give it to Smith in a photo.
Taqele Naiyaravoro played himself out of the Wallabies. Not one Wallaby-eligible player did their chances any good at all tonight.
Crowd: Not known. You can bet the crowd in two week’s time will be smaller.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Tambwe, Smith, Vorster, Schoeman
Conversions: Jantjes (3)
Penalties: Jantjes (1)