The Waratahs overcame a hair-pulling bout of first-half jitters and errors – let alone heavy rain and a biting wind – with a four-try effort to beat the Lions 26-3 in Sydney last night.
Before a crowd of 20,016 at the Sydney Football Stadium, the Waratahs cemented their top-four place with a win that earned them a bonus point.
Rupert Guiness writes for RugbyHeaven Aus that the home side took a grip of the game by scoring three tries in 12 minutes from the 46th minute – the last two coming in the 57th and 58th minutes.
It was Waratahs captain Phil Waugh who scored the breakthrough five-pointer in the corner six minutes into the second half from a cut-out pass from five-eighth Kurtley Beale.
The ball, going over the head of winger Lote Tuqiri, landed plum in the No. 7′s hands near the touchline when the Waratahs were pressing the Lions defence. Beale missed the conversion, but it at least put NSW on the scoreboard with a 5-0 lead.
The Lions kept in touch to be 5-3 down in the 53rd minute after No.9 Jano Vermaak kicked a penalty that, really, should not have been awarded against prop Benn Robinson.
But it was an inconsequential hiccup for NSW as half-back Luke Burgess ignited the moves that saw the hosts charge away with two more tries.
The first came after the Waratahs were awarded a short-arm penalty when Beale was tackled late after his bust, dummy pass and chip-kick took NSW into the Lions 22m. Burgess took a quick tap, caught the Lions’ defence napping and off-loaded to blindside flanker Dean Mumm who scored. Beale converted this one to take NSW to a 12-3 lead.
Then, a minute later, Burgess charged down a kick near the Lions line by reserve back Jannie Boshoff.
Hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau chased the ball to score under the posts and after Beale converted, the Waratahs were up 19-3.
Suddenly a fourth-try bonus point was begging for NSW – and it came 13 minutes later.
Hooker Adam Freier, who replaced Polota-Nau after his try, pushed over in the maul to score in the 71st minute, sealing NSW’s 26-3 scoreline after another Beale conversion.
The game was still locked at 0-0 at half-time with an unbelievable error rate in wet conditions cruelling both side’s chances of converting their attacks into points.
The Waratahs were under pressure from the kick-off and for the most part of the half found their forays into the Lions territory answered by counterattacks from loose ball.
The Lions spent most of the first 20 minutes in NSW terrain and showed that they were unafraid to run the ball wide and vary their attacks with midfield busts by their big men.
The Waratahs defence again proved impenetrable. And as the Lions lost balls in the tackle or the breakdown, the Waratahs kept responding with some lightning breaks.
However, the fumbles were equally as worrying for NSW as their attacks went to water.
After 26 minutes the heavens opened and, as the rain fell, the already stiff southerly blowing against the Waratahs increased, hurting their kicking game.
While the forwards had been in the fray earlier, the change of conditions saw them take a more prominent role as an attacking force, as shown when Beale kicked two penalties out into touch at the 31st and 33rd minutes when the Waratahs were within the Lions 22m zone.
Both kicks easily found the line and set NSW up for a try-scoring push. However, the Lions, a side laden with tall timber and robust tough men, were too strong to break.
The frustration – and errors – were building in the two sides though, as both found themselves within metres of scoring their first points before the half-time siren sounded.
NSW were saved in the 37th minute after losing their own lineout throw five metres out when the spread of the ball by the Lions saw the ball slip through Louis Ludik’s hands. It was a similar case for the Lions when they had to fend off one last push by NSW that met a similar fate just before the break when both sides walked off shaking their heads.
NSW WARATAHS 26 (Phil Waugh, Dean Mumm, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Adam Freier tries Kurtley Beale 3 cons)
LIONS 3 (Jano Vermaak pen) at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Referee: Kelvin Deaker (Nzl).