THE Waratahs may have beaten the Cheetahs last night, but the sorry way they almost threw the win away will leave many doubting that they are really Super 14 contenders.
Rupert Guinness of RugbyHeaven reports that a disappointing home crowd of 20,179 would have been left feeling less than confident about the Waratahs’ chances this season after their four-point win.
A poignant sign of the Waratahs’ trouble-filled victory was that the Cheetahs outscored them on the try count that read 3-2 in their favour at full-time.
The Waratahs, 20-7 up at half-time and in a position to score four tries for a bonus point, instead allowed the Cheetahs to take control early in the second half.
Winger Jongi Nokwe toed the ball from inside their 40 metres deep into NSW’s half and set off in pursuit. He outpaced the brave but chasing Waratahs blindside flanker Rocky Elsom all the way to NSW’s line, to get his hand on the ball first and score. The conversion missed, but with 54 minutes gone, NSW’s lead narrowed to 20-12.
Suddenly the attacking running play the Waratahs produced in the first half went missing. And as the structure in their game disappeared, the Cheetahs started to gain ascendancy.
The Waratahs, having used most of their bench, were worryingly back in customary trouble.
And the Cheetahs didn’t wast the opportunity, with Flip van der Merwe bagging their third try in the 70th minute which, when converted by Meyer Bosman, left them just one point adrift, 20-19.
NSW gained the breathing space they needed to win with Beale’s penalty kick in the 76th minute to put them up 23-19.
In the first half, despite the abundance of errors – perhaps a sign of the mounting pressure on NSW during the week to play more attacking rugby – the effort to run ball was evident.
Beale was obviously intent on leaving his mark on the game early, as he was a central figure in the first handful of phases from the Cheetahs’ kick-off. Within the first minute he even found himself diving over the line with the ball near the posts, only to have his attempt at a try foiled as he lost his grip on the ball on the way over.
Despite that missed chance, NSW were deservedly first to get points on the board. In the 17th minute Beale’s penalty kick for a high tackle by Cheetahs No.13 Hendrik Meyer on NSW prop Benn Robinson put them 3-0 up.
Up until then NSW were enjoying 67 per cent possession, but had yet to really profit from it. That is, until the 22nd minute when Waratahs captain Phil Waugh pulled off a brilliant intercept off a pass from Cheetahs No.10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter from 40 metres out.
Like a terrier, the Wallaby flanker ran low to the ground, found space and then passed right to winger Lachlan Turner who ran onto the ball full pace and down the touchline.
Turner’s speed was virtually unchallenged and he easily scored the first try of the night which, when converted by Beale, left NSW comfortably leading by 10-0.
Considering that try came off the Cheetahs’ first real run of the ball, the visitors could have lost their bundle – but not a side like them who have given many a team a headache.
They struck in the 29th minute when second-rower David de Villiers ran under Lote Tuqiri to score in the corner.
In the 30th minute, Sam Norton-Knight replied, putting Elsom into space for the Waratahs’ second try.
WARATAHS 23 (Lachie Turner, Rocky Elsom tries Kurtley Beale 2 cons 3 pens)
CHEETAHS 19 (David de Villiers, Jongi Nokwe, Flip Van Der Merwe tries Meyer Bosman 2 cons)
Referee: Kelvin Deaker (Nzl).