Three second-half tries gave the Waratahs a 37-14 victory against the Brumbies in a pulsating local derby that lived up to all the pre-match hype.
While there were too many handling errors and turnovers for this Vodacom Super 14 match to go down as a classic, it was champagne stuff compared to the flat beer served in the South African derby at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Brumbies suffered a massive setback when flyhalf Stephen Larkham pulled a hamstring on the 10-minute mark, with Matt Giteau taking over at flyhalf and Gene Fairbanks coming on at inside centre. Without their backline general dictating play, the Brumbies committed over two dozen unforced errors and conceded 20 turnovers in the opening hour that allowed the ‘Tahs to get on top.
The victory takes NSW to within two points of the unbeaten Crusaders, who have a game in hand, while the fourth-placed Brumbies are now just five points ahead of the Bulls and six ahead of the Sharks.
The ‘Tahs finished the game in complete control, but it was the Brumbies who came out of the starting blocks at a hundred miles an hour.
George Gregan sparked the Brumbies’ first try after just four minutes when he took the gap and put Larkham into space. The ball was recycled to George Smith whose grubber was perfectly judged for Stirling Mortlock in the right-hand corner. Mortlock added the extras, but a Hewat penalty soon after made it 7-3.
A break from Chris Whitaker saw David Lyons stopped just 5m short of the Brumbies’ tryline, but Mat Rogers knocked on with a five-man overlap out wide. Fortunately for the home side referee Scott Young was playing advantage and Hewat’s second penalty made it a one-point ball game.
However, the Brumbies hit back soon after the restart when a counter-attack saw fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper bounce off a poor tackle from Wendell Sailor before off-loading to Adam Wallace-Harrison. The No 8 crashed over for his first Super Rugby try and the visitors were out to a 14-6 lead.
The Waratahs should have scored five minutes before half-time when Rogers put Hewat into space who in turn found Lote Tuqiri. However, instead of feeding the two men on his outside, the winger went to ground where the ball was knocked forward by Smith. The ‘Tahs attacked again from the scrum, and a professional foul by Smith at the breakdown allowed Hewat to reduce the deficit to five points.
The ‘Tahs then drew level on the stroke of half-time when former Brumby Sam Norton-Knight chased a kick ahead by Tuqiri, booted the ball over the tryline, and applied just enough pressure for his side’s first try. Hewat missed the conversion, but at 14-all the momentum was firmly with NSW.
Norton-Knight should have scored again 10 minutes after the break, but knocked on with the tryline in sight after initial breaks from Sailor and Tuqiri had put the Brumbies on the back foot. However, the referee was again playing advantage and Hewat’s penalty put the ‘Tahs in front for the first time in the match.
It was Hewat who created the ‘Tahs second try when he chased a kick ahead, beat Gregan to the loose ball and set up the ruck. A double skip pass from Rogers found Tuqiri on the left wing who evaded a desperate Clyde Rathbone tackle to give his side a 10-point buffer.
Hewat added his fourth penalty, before a blunder from winger Mark Gerrard gave the ‘Tahs their third try with eight minutes remaining. Having claimed a kick ahead by Hewat, Gerrard’s chip went straight into the hands of replacement centre Sean Berne who found Morgan Turinui on his inside. Hewat missed the conversion, but at 32-14 it was game over.
The Brumbies then gifted the ‘Tahs their bonus-point try just before full-time when a wayward pass to Smith was snapped up by Rocky Elsom.
The ‘Tahs now go into a bye weekend before taking on the Highlanders at the House of Pain, while the Brumbies will look to get their campaign back on track against the Hurricanes in Canberra.
Waratahs – Tries: Sam Norton-Knight, Lote Tuqiri, Morgan Turinui, Rocky Elsom. Conversion: Peter Hewat. Penalties: Hewat (5).
Brumbies – Tries: Stirling Mortlock, Adam Wallace-Harrison. Conversions: Mortlock (2).
By Simon Borchardt