The Waratahs escaped at AAMI Park as the Rebels slumped to their first 0-4 Super Rugby start.
What did we learn from a gripping Australian derby?
1. Waratahs escape death sentence in game of lives
Trailing by 19 points at half-time, Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson wasn’t sugar coating his team’s situation. “We’re in a fight for our lives for the next 40 minutes”. Billed as the desperation derby, the Waratahs finally walked their talk in the second half, showing glimpses of what rugby looks like when they start to click. The Rebels were more desperate for almost the entire night, but they were ultimately worn down by on-field carnage, left to clean up after their worst start to a Super Rugby season.
2. Quality derby better than a call to arms
The Rebels and the Brumbies issued call to arms for their fans ahead of their round five home games, but it’s spectacles like the one on Friday night that might just bring people to rugby. It was fast-paced, almost frenetic in parts, but clearly packed with desperation. Tom English’s try in the 31st minute was the culmination of the kind of rugby. Send as many letters and tweets as you want but produce that every week and fans won’t be able to ignore it.
3. Turning a corner to find Mt Everest
They’ve finally showed a glimpse of what they can do and things won’t get any easier from here on in for the Waratahs. They are yet to meet a New Zealand side this season but they have two in the next fortnight - first the Crusaders on a Sunday afternoon and then the defending champion Hurricanes a week later. They’ve kept their season beating after escaping in Melbourne and a win or two against the Kiwis would give things a true jump start.
4. Those leaguies go alright
Marika Koroibete looked lost when he first ran on for the Rebels but this might just be a breakthrough outing for the former Storm star. Though he didn’t score, his defensive efforts early were crucial, as Koroibete threw his body on the line. The speedster finished with seven tackles for the night, a solid tally for a winger, and a display of his weapons on both sides of the ball. His direct opponent, Reece Robinson, was the only Waratah back to retain the same position in the backline that he played last week and had one of his better games for NSW.
5. Is Colby the forgotten flanker?
Colby Faingaa was immense for the Rebels and his influence was nearly a game-winning one. With Australia’s depth at openside flanker, it’s easy for players like Faingaa to be forgotten, but he has been one of the Rebels’ most consistent, stepping up in the absence of Sean McMahon, with the seven jersey his each week. It was true again on Friday night until a 75th minute yellow card ended his night.