Novice Tahs embarrass Foley’s first choice Force
The controversial move by Western Force coach Michael Foley to rest the majority of his starting side against the British & Irish Lions will be called into question even further, after his ‘first choice’ squad went down 28-13 to a greenhorn NSW Waratahs side on Sunday at nib Stadium.
The decision, which led to a second string team copping a 69-17 defeat to the tourists during the week, could only have been ameliorated by victory over the Waratahs, ironically Foley’s former employers. But this result will leave a bitter taste in the mouth for many across the Nullarbor, and 12 long years for it to linger.
In a turnaround from Wednesday night’s fixture, the Force came into this clash with the upper hand in terms of experience as the Waratahs, decimated by the loss of ten players to the pre-Lions Wallaby camp as well as a host of injuries, were forced to field no less than six debutants in their match day 23. You wouldn’t have known it.
The damage was done in the first half as the pace and execution of the visitors proved too much for a Force side that took it’s time getting out of the blocks. They had plenty of possession but couldn’t convert their pressure into points, while the Tahs’ incisive counter attack and greater strike power was a constant threat.
Jayden Hayward had given the Force a 3rd minute lead with a penalty before one of the Tahs’ debutants, Ollie Atkins, replied with a five-pointer from in close three minutes later after his side had constructed 15 patient phases to get him in position. Brendan McKibbin added the extras.
Nine minutes in, the Tahs produced a try that would have had Michael Cheika beaming in the coaches box. He’d promised more first-phase attack from the set-piece when he came on board and this was a classic example, the Tahs securing lineout ball and using a wraparound between Bernard Foley and Tom Carter to release Drew Mitchell, before he fed Cam Crawford into the corner.
McKibbin again converted and fostered a healthy 17-3 lead on 18 minutes with a penalty. The Force needed something quickly before the game got away from them and they did so when stand-in skipper Pek Cowan drove over off the back of a Hugh McMeniman surge, following a five-metre scrum.
However, the respite was short lived as the Tahs turned up the afterburners again in the 25th minute, Mitchell revelling in his shift to fullback to turn provider again, this time for Tom Kingston.
The home side responded by putting together what would prove to be their best period of sustained pressure in the match. Far more confident inside 10 metres than in open field, they clearly felt they had the ascendancy at scrum time and through their maul. But they’d reckoned without the gargantuan effort of Will Skelton in defence.
After forcing a couple of penalties and kicking to touch, it was the giant 21-year-old who diffused two drives almost single-handedly, holding the first up off the floor before fighting his way through the second, isolating ball and carrier and effecting the turnover.
They went to the sheds with no further score but the Tahs exhibiting a visible zip in their step.
The Forces’ best chance at redemption came in the 54th minute when repeat offences saw Tahs no.8 Jed Holloway sent to the bin, forcing the unusual sight of winger Peter Betham packing down in the scrum.
It was Betham who instigated the next – and final – try of the day, but not in the way he’d intended. A trademark dart on the counter ended with him being bundled into touch. But the Force played on quickly and caught the Tahs napping on halfway, giving Sias Ebersohn the chance to dummy his way through a gap and release Kyle Godwin to the line unopposed.
Hayward missed the conversion, meaning an extra seven points had been passed up by his boot in total, leaving the Force nine points adrift at 22-13. It’s the small things.
With Holloway back on the Tahs had suffered the concession of only two points while a man down, and that was soon negated by another McKibbin penalty in the 73rd minute, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the Force. Bernard Foley added another three points near the end as Michael Cheika emptied his bench, giving every one of his Super Rugby fledglings a taste of the big time. And they didn’t disappoint, offering plenty of cause for optimism around Moore Park for the seasons ahead.
After their expansive efforts of the first forty minutes, the only downside for the Tahs was their inability to add a fourth, potentially crucial, bonus point try after the break. But as joyous first time captain Tom Carter explained afterwards, the victory alone was cause for much celebration.
“We spoke about that at half-time, getting the fourth try. But you come over here to win,” he reasoned. “The Force are a tremendous side here, they’ve beaten the Crusaders and drew with the Reds. So it was a really good effort.
“That’s probably one for the true believers, people like Phil Waugh and the past greats for the Waratahs. Cheik’s really brought that spirit back and that’s what we showed out there today. We lacked some combinations but we had tremendous courage, and it’s one of the best wins I’ve ever had.”
Michael Foley was left to ruminate on what might have been. “I think you always reflect on those decisions and second guess yourself a little bit,” he admitted. “Could we have done it differently? Could there have been a better way to go?
“We spent a lot of time communicating internally about how we wanted to try and achieve a gutsy performance against the Lions and a win against the Waratahs. We were successful in the first game, we definitely achieved a gutsy performance. But we didn’t achieve the result we wanted against the Waratahs and as a coach, I think you accept responsibility for that.”
Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, there is no denying that this has been one of the most testing weeks in the short history of the Western Force.
NSW WARATAHS 28 (Ollie Atkins, Cam Crawford, Tom Kingston tries; Brendan McKibbin 2 cons, 2 pens, Bernard Foley pen) defeated WESTERN FORCE 13 (Pek Cowan, Kyle Godwin tries; Jayden Hayward pen)
WESTERN FORCE: 1. Pek Cowan (c); 2. Heath Tessmann; 3. Kieran Longbottom; 4. Rory Walton; 5. Sam Wykes; 6. Hugh McMeniman; 7. Chris Alcock; 8. Angus Cottrell; 9. Alby Mathewson; 10. Sias Ebersohn; 11. Solomoni Rasolea; 12. Kyle Godwin; 13. Ben Jacobs; 14. Pat Dellit; 15. Jayden Hayward – Replacements: Salesi Ma’afu; Matt Hodgson; Brett Sheehan
NSW WARATAHS: 1. Jeremy Tilse; 2. John Ulugia; 3. Paddy Ryan; 4. Will Skelton; 5. Ollie Atkins; 6. Lopeti Timani; 7. AJ Gilbert; 8. Jed Holloway; 9. Brendan McKibbin; 10. Bernard Foley; 11. Peter Betham; 12. Tom Carter (c); 13. Tom Kingston; 14. Cam Crawford; 15. Drew Mitchell – Replacements: Luke Holes; Richard Aho; Adam Coleman; Liam Winton; Matt Lucas; Ben Volavola; Terrence Hepetema
Original version published by Rugby News on: June 11th, 2013