The Waratahs boosted their semi-final hopes with a 46-19 bonus-point win against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.
With the Reds and Crusaders losing against the Hurricanes and Bulls respectively, the Tahs had an opportunity to move into a semi-final position.
However, the question was would the Tahs be able to produce a winning performance after a stale display in their defeat to the Highlanders last weekend? Head coach Chris Hickey made his intentions clear by tweaking the backline in a bid to play expansively and attempt to expose the Chiefs’ frail defence.
Berrick Barnes was shifted to pivot with scrumhalf Luke Burgess partnering him in a new halfback combination. Hickey also fielded a new centre pair in Tom Carter and Rob Horne. This proved effective as the Tahs improved on attack and a solid defensive display rounded off a convincing win.
Wing Drew Mitchell opened the scoring early on as his chip and chase beat the Chiefs’ defence. The Tahs created more opportunities thereafter, but the Chiefs were resilient on defence.
Conversely, the Chiefs struggled with ball in hand as they were seldom able to put more than five phases together. This allowed the Tahs to gain ascendancy once the Chiefs’ defence tired.
The Tahs added to their lead when Ben Mowen burst through two tackles, before hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau dived over from a driving maul. Barnes added five points with the boot through a conversion and penalty. The half-time score read 20-0.
Barnes secured the four-try bonus point after an intercept touchdown soon after the restart. This killed the Chiefs’ chances of a comeback, and their players seemed to lose their way after the Tahs went 27-0 ahead.
But the home team managed to open their tally through a try from fullback Tim Nanai-Williams.
The Tahs continued their onslaught and Kurtley Beale, Lachie Turner and Damien Fitzpatrick crossed the chalk. The Chiefs claimed two late consolation tries through Jackson Willison, but it proved insignificant as they lost their fifth home game of the season.
The win sees the Tahs jump the Canes into third on the log, with one round of fixtures left.
By Gareth Duncan