Bonus-point Tahs win historic derby in style
Photo: Karen Watson / RA Media
The Bob Templeton Cup remains in New South Wales after the Waratahs chalked up their eighth win in a row over the Queensland Reds, running out 37-16 winners at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday night.
In what was the first clash between the two rivals at the iconic venue since 1983, the Waratahs enjoyed the majority of opportunities in the opening half without making them count, before finally getting their reward after the break. Taqele Naiyaravoro claimed another double as the home side grabbed a four-try bonus point to move to the top of the Australian conference.
It was a positive start from the Tahs, with handling skills to the fore as the ball was zipped around the park with speed and accuracy and the Reds were forced to defend from the off.
The home side got an early advantage when James Slipper was pinged for not rolling away and Bernard Foley opened his account with 3pts. And the blue tide continued to surge, lovely interplay from Kurtley Beale, Curtis Rona and Naiyaravoro carrying the hosts from their own 22 to the opposition red zone on six minutes, the move only quelled by insufficient numbers at the breakdown, and Queensland getting the turnover.
A penalty for a silly deliberate knock-down at the scrum allowed Foley to kick to touch, but the resulting driving maul was ruled held up over the line. However, from the ensuing five-metre scrum, play was quickly spread wide for a Beale cut-out pass to put Naiyaravoro over in the corner for his sixth of the season.
Or it should have, because for once in this stellar start to 2018, the big Fijian fluffed his lines and dropped the ball cold as he grounded, the desperate lunge of Filipo Daugunu doing enough to distract him. But the Reds had been warned.
After 15 minutes, the visitor’s had barely been out of their own half, such was the stranglehold the Waratahs’ rapier-like attack was imposing on them. Whenever they coughed up possession, the Tahs were pouncing at speed, and using every blade of the SCG turf to stretch their opponent’s at will. The only thing missing was the final execution, and when Foley added another penalty after Kane Douglas went off his feet, the 6-0 lead was barely justice for their dominance.
The joy the newly-housed Waratahs faithful were experiencing by seeing their boys chancing their arm and running from everywhere, was only diminished by the fact that they were yet to add a five-pointer to the scoreboard. And that frustration must only have grown when the Reds duly halved the gap on 24 minutes, a rare penalty given against the home side at the breakdown, and Jono Lance doing the rest.
That seemed to ignite the visitor’s fire, and suddenly it was they who were tearing it up down the flank through Izaia Perese after the Tahs failed to deal with a chip-kick from Lance. Captain Hooper copped a heavy knock from the young winger for his trouble, but it did enough to dampen the pace of the attack, and when the ball was sent to the opposite wing, Daugunu was duly shepherded into touch by the combined efforts of Will Miller and Bryce Hegarty.
The Reds got a gilt-edged chance for greater reward a couple of minutes later, only for Brandon Paenga-Amosa to throw a skewed lineout, picked up by referee Angus Gardner. Cue steam from coach Brad Thorn’s ears.
Two near moments of magic in quick succession just after the half hour almost broke the game open. The fleet-footed Daugunu returned a clearing kick from Beale with interest, carving a path for himself and flirting with the touchline at the same time, only for the Waratahs to muscle up and get the turnover.
That in turn gave Beale the chance to see space in behind, and he took it beautifully to race into open field looking for runners. He found one in the tracking Hegarty, who took the pass in his stride and had Foley on his outside for a clear run home, only to throw the pass too high for the Wallaby flyhalf to gather in. The uniform groan from the crowd was palpable.
Thankfully for the Tahs, they finally made good on their intentions just before the break. The Reds wastefully kicked possession back to them, Hegarty and Beale went wide rather than to the boot, and Michael Wells looked like more like a golden eagle than a seagulling forward as he tore up the sideline and put a bullet pass out in front of the supporting Jake Gordon. This time it was held, and the scrumhalf had too much gas for the cover defence.
But the Reds kept themselves firmly in the conversation with the last points of the half, James Tuttle taking over kicking duties to dissect the uprights and keep his side within seven at the break, after Beale infringed at the breakdown. Given the paucity of field position and opportunities they had mustered in the opening 40 minutes, you got the feeling a 13-6 deficit would be gladly taken.
The Reds returned with confidence refreshed, lifting their tempo and battering the home defensive line. They should have got their first try when Aidan Toua put a nice grubber into the corner, but the ball wouldn’t sit up and a stretching Daugunu could only knock on as he tried to regather. However, Toua was playing with a penalty advantage, and Tuttle duly dispatched the three points..
The Tahs looked to respond immediately, but shot themselves in the feet again with numbers to burn as several forced passes failed to find their targets. But they got the second try their efforts to that point deserved, when an unnecessary wide ball from Lance was picked off by the waiting Naiyaravoro, who just about had enough in his legs to outrun the chasing Toua.
A superb conversion from the angle by Foley added the extras, and you got the feeling the next try would be crucial. If it went to the Reds, it was game on, if it went to the Tahs, it was probably game over.
As it transpired the next points were a penalty, summarily dispatched by Foley from in front after Hooper had led by example with a textbook pilfer. But just as you wondered if the visitor’s had anything left in the tank as the game entered the final quarter, the intercept gift ledger was equalled. A rare loose pass from Foley was spilled by Newsome as they looked to recreate a first-phase try scored against the Brumbies a fortnight ago, and the alert Daugunu scooped up to go half the field and under the posts.
With 15 minutes remaining Daryl Gibson called for replacements, Paddy Ryan coming on for his 100th game for NSW, Jed Holloway on for an impressive Michael Wells, and Nick Phipps making his long-awaited return from injury. They were needed to help reignite a Waratahs side that were getting sloppier by the minute, the slickness of their early attacks replaced by a sudden hesitancy and lack of conviction.
Sensing the game was in danger of drifting away from them, Beale looked to close it down with some tidy place-kicking. But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and with every one of a New South Wales persuasion shifting uncomfortably in their seats at the precarious nature of their lead, who else but Naiyaravoro would step up to ease their fears.
The Tahs attacked the short side, Alex Newsome carried and could have used the numbers out wide, but when the ball was recycled and Phipps fed the man they call ‘Big T’, he was simply too big and too strong from a couple of metres to grab his third double of the season.
The big man was having fun, often too much, as the new crowd favourite swatted aside Daugunu twice in quick succession but lacked the numbers around him to make it pay. But his decision to throw a one-handed arrow that Tom Brady would have been proud of, had hearts in mouths when it was scooped up by Adam Korczyk in open field.
Thankfully the cover defence spared any potential blushes, and when the forwards muscled-up for replacement prop Harry Johnson-Holmes to drive over from a metre as the siren sounded, the Waratahs had the bonus-point victory their attacking intent warranted across the 80 minutes.
The win was their fourth in a row of a building season, and sent them top of the Australian conference. But they know they will need to take all their opportunities when they host the exciting Lions back at Allianz Stadium next Friday evening.
NSW WARATAHS 37 (Taqele Naiyaravoro 2, Jake Gordon, Harry Johnson-Holmes tries; Bernard Foley 4 cons, 3 pens) defeated QUEENSLAND REDS 16 (Filipo Daugunu try; James Tuttle 2 pens, Jono Lance con, pen) HT 13-6