The Waratahs have kept their Super 14 finals hopes alive after coming out deserved winners in a dour, but hard fought, affair against the Cheetahs at Vodacom Stadium in Bloemfontein.
In perfect conditions – dry, but slightly chilly – the Waratahs won 18-10 scoring two tries to one. However, the victory came at a price, with Lote Tuqiri coming off in the first half with a knee injury and is in doubt to play against the Sharks in Durban next Saturday.
Rupert Guinness writes for Rugbyheaven Aus that while the game was a hard, tough slog and went in ebbs and flows – especially in the second half – there were some highs for the Waratahs.
Up front, they were far more dominant at the breakdown, did well at the lineout and scrum. And then in the backs there was adventurous attempt – however, too often once more cruelled by poor handling.
Individually, the stars for NSW were Timana Tahu in the centres who produced some terrific runs, No. 6 Ben Mowen in the defensive lineouts and No. 8 Wycliff Palu for his dogged and bullish work in defence and with ball in hand that earned him the man of the match award.
The Waratahs, who led 8-0 at halftime, but then after the break the game became bogged down and it was not until the 57th minute that the Waratahs extended their lead to 15-3.
That came with half-back Luke Burgess scoring NSW’s second try near the posts for Daniel Halangahu to convert. A Halangahu penalty at the 73rd minute put them 18-3 up.
But if anyone thought the game was over there, they were wrong. At the 78th minute the Cheetahs fought back when reserve back JW Jonker scored a converted bringing the home team to 18-10 down.
That try reinvigorated the home side – and crowd – who continued to pressure the Waratahs line, mixing it with a number of wide attacks and pick and drives. However, it was all to no avail.
The Waratahs’s 8-0 halftime lead was due to one try by Lachie Turner at the 25th minute and a penalty goal at the 38th by Halangahu.
NSW rejigged their backline for defensive reasons to the line-up that was named during the week.
Instead they often ran Kurtley Beale, who was named at 12, at fullback. Turner, who was picked at 15, switched to the wing, No. 11 Tuqiri came in to outside centre, and No 13 Tahu went to inside centre.
There were scrappy moments in the first half though. The Waratahs once again threw away far too many opportunities with dropped ball – with the worst of those errors coming from Tuqiri.
At the 12th minute Tuqiri was one step from the line after swerving through two defenders when he let slip the ball as he was tackled.
But his night only got worse. He hobbled off-field at the 30th minute with a right knee injury, and was replaced by Tom Carter.
“I think Timana Tahu had a big game and Kurtley Beale played his first time at inside centre and did well as well,” Waratahs No.8 Palu said.
He said NSW needed to show more patience in next week’s “make-or-break” clash with the Sharks in Durban after blowing some scoring opportunities.
“We were down in their half a few times in the first half and the second and we just let them off with a couple of silly handling errors,” Palu said.
NSW skipper Phil Waugh, who was making a record 108th Super appearance for the Waratahs, said the bye week had freshened up his team.
He lauded the Tahs’ defensive efforts against the last-placed Cheetahs.
“I thought the Cheetahs attacked pretty well. We seemed to scramble very well to stop them scoring, so that was a pleasing aspect,” Waugh said.
“Tonight was a very big game for us, but we’ve got an eight-day turnaround now, so we’ll enjoy the win here and make sure we’re right to go on Monday for a big week in Durban.
NSW WARATAHS 18 (Luke Burgess, Lachlan Turner tries, Daniel Halangahu con 2 pens)
CHEETAHS 10 (Jacobus Jonker try, Naas Olivier con pen)Tweet