Tahs resist late Chiefs surge

JON CARDINELLI watched the Waratahs fire and then fade in their narrow 23-16 victory against the Chiefs in Sydney.

What’s happened to the Chiefs? The side that turned up in Sydney was a far cry from the determined unit that outmuscled the Sharks in Hamilton. They didn’t look interested, and played with little energy, synergy or purpose.

The Waratahs enjoyed most of the possession in the first half, and pinned the Chiefs back in their own territory. While the hosts didn’t take every opportunity, their dominance at the set-pieces and collisions ensured that they had multiple cracks at the gutless Chiefs defence.

A patient build up culminated in an try for Atieli Pakalani, and the powerful scrum set up the Waratahs’ second. Camped on their own tryline, the Chiefs buckled under the set-piece pressure, conceding penalty after penalty. Phil Waugh persisted with the scrum option, and his decision was vindicated when another penalty led to a yellow card for prop Nathan White, and further sanction resulted in a penalty try.

Flyhalf Kurtley Beale was outstanding on attack, taking some great options to unleash his dangerous support runners. Waratahs coach Chris Hickey will be encouraged by his performance, but at the same time he will be disappointed that the home team didn’t convert more of their opportunities.

The half-time scoreline of 20-6 was kind to the Chiefs, as the Waratahs had enjoyed so much territory and possession, and created so many linebreaks, that a 14-point lead was poor value for their dominance. They’re still short on killer instinct, and their decision making needs sharpening.

The Tahs slipped into a complacent mindset after the break, and the Chiefs took full advantage. Tim Nanai-Williams dived over a ruck to score, and Mike Delany booted the extras to bring the Kiwis within striking distance.

The Tahs also had to finish the match without their captain, as Waugh limped off with a calf strain. It set up a testing final quarter as the game opened up and the Chiefs grew in confidence. The Tahs, in complete control for the first 40, were now under the pump.

But it was a Chiefs player that succumbed to the pressure with Delany fluffing two successive penalty attempts. Nanai-Williams took over the kicking duties and brought the Chiefs closer to an upset, but the visitors were made to regret the six points Delany missed.

A frantic final 10 minutes followed, with the Tahs battling to hold onto the ball. It was a situation tailor-made for the Chiefs individuals, and only some desperate Waratahs defence kept them at bay. If the Chiefs were capable of linking on attack, the result may have been different.

Liam Messam knocked on deep in his own half and the Waratahs won a penalty soon after that to close out the game. Beale nailed the three-pointer but couldn’t prevent the visitors from earning the losing bonus point.

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