The Waratahs found themselves in familiar territory at Newlands late on Saturday night needing a try to win in the final minutes. For the first time in 2016 they were up to the task and snatched a 32-30 win against the Stormers.
When Dean Mumm fluffed the opening kick-off reception into touch it handed possession to the Stormers and set the tone for the pressure the Waratahs were going to be under in the first half. A couple of early penalty goal misses from Jean-Luc du Plessis kept the scorers idle and after absorbing pressure for much of the first 7 minutes the Waratahs scored through Kurtley Beale on the second phase off a lineout on the Stormers 22. Bernard Foley beat Damien de Allende before a short pass put Beale over for the try.
The Tahs had to make the most of their chances because the game went back into their half for much of the remainder of the first stanza. The Stormers built sustained pressure and an inside ball from Nic Groom close to the Tahs line put Schalk Burger over under the posts. When Pieter-Steph du Toit crashed over from a pick and go 5 minutes later, the score was 14-5 and the pressure the Stormers were able to build was starting to pay dividends.
The Waratahs managed to hang tough in defence and withstood many attacking raids from the Stormers. With half time approaching, a penalty presented the Waratahs with a lineout throw 35 metres out from the Stormers line. A quick ball off the top and a brilliant flat ball from Kurtley Beale to Israel Folau again found de Allende lacking in defence and the Tahs went to half time trailing 12-14. With the Stormers enjoying 73% of the first half possession and 77% of the territory it was a small miracle that the Waratahs were in the hunt.
Penalties were traded in the second half and the Stormers were still enjoying a 2 point lead when a clumsy challenge from winger Leolin Zas collected Bernard Foley in the air sending him landing heavily on his head and shoulder. After consultation with TMO Shaun Veldsman, referee Mike Fraser decided the challenge warranted a red card. Whilst it was unfortunate for Zas that he slipped into the contact and perhaps a yellow card would have been sufficient, the red card of Jason Emery and 4 weeks suspension last week suggested he wasn’t just going to escape with a penalty. There’s a clear directive from the match officials that a player in the air has to be protected and if you want to compete you have to be in a position to catch the ball.
Another du Plessis penalty extended the lead to 5 before the Waratahs produced the try of the match in the 66th minute. Israel Folau caught the high ball 10 metres inside the Waratahs half and a Kurtley Beale break with the ball spreading from one side of the field to the other and back again was finished with a great offload from Reece Robinson to put Rob Horne over for the try.
It felt like the Waratahs were going to need to score again to win and that was confirmed when du Toit caught the Waratahs ruck defence napping when he picked the ball up at the breakdown and ran over untouched from close range.
Needing a converted try to win in the final minutes, the Waratahs made a big break and put themselves in a great attacking position before Angus Ta’avao pushed an offload which was dropped.
The ensuing 5 metre defensive scrum to the Stormers was a thing of beauty for a much maligned Waratahs scrum. Jeremy Tilse produced the scrum of his career and the Waratahs powered over the Stormers scrum and forced their second tight head of the match. With penalty advantage, the Tahs were trying to pick and go from close range and Michael Hooper got the legs pumping to force his way over under the posts. With the conversion, the Waratahs led 32-30 and after securing the kick-off and safely navigating several phases to chew up the final minute, a famous victory was achieved.
With the Rebels and Brumbies both losing, the Waratahs now find themselves only two points off the top of the Aussie conference with a game in hand. A season that looked all but over a couple of weeks ago is now well and truly alive.
The Game Changer
With 24 minutes to go, Stormers winger Leolin Zas slipped and clattered into Bernard Foley as he attempted to catch a high ball. Foley was flipped dangerously onto his head and a (fairly harsh) red card ensued.
The G&GR MOTM
Michael Hooper produced a real captain’s knock leading the Waratahs to an important victory. A match high 17 tackles helped the Tahs withstand the immense pressure they were placed under, and the performance was capped off with the winning try when he burrowed over under the posts in the 78th minute to seal the win.
Michael Hooper was outstanding and will perhaps quieten some of those doubting his current form. Will Skelton had arguably his best game of the year and was a menace at the breakdown and carried strongly. Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley combined brilliantly and were a constant threat.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Beale, Folau, Horne, Hooper
Conversions: Foley 3/4
Penalties: Foley 2/4
Tries: Burger, du-Toit (2)
Conversions: Du Plessis 3/3
Penalties: Du Plessis 3/5
Cards & citings
Leolin Zas – Red Card and cited
If you’re a Waratahs fan and haven’t seen it then find yourself a replay! The difficulty of winning in Cape Town makes this an instant classic.