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By Waratahs Media Unit
HSBC Waratahs 25 – 20 Chiefs
Super Rugby Round 10, Allianz Stadium
Two first half tries and a last-minute effort have lifted the HSBC Waratahs to an inspiring 25-20 home victory over Super Rugby’s defending champions.
After building up a 15-point half time lead, the HSBC Waratahs held off a spirited Chiefs fightback, securing victory in the 77th minute when replacement hooker John Ulugia scored from a perfectly executed short ball through the midfield.
After turning in their best 40 minutes of rugby this season, the home side repelled wave after wave of attack from the highly favoured Chiefs, with their scrambling defence keeping them in the match long enough for Ulugia to deliver the lethal blow in the dying minutes.
Praising his side, Head Coach Michael Cheika attributed the win to his team’s composure in the closing stages. “I think that there’s a belief in the way we want to play,”Cheika said.
“If you look at that last try, we started a fair way down the track with a short amount of time to go and we get back up there and create the opportunity to score.
“We were sticking to the style of game we want to play and that can only happen if we lay a platform around the contact area.”
Looking ahead to the two-match tour of South Africa, Cheika was enthused with his side’s newfound confidence. “We’re starting to build some belief in ourselves.... in each other and the commitment we need to make to each other, to work hard enough to win games.”
The crowd had barely sat down when loosehead prop Benn Robinson charged through a gap to set Brendan McKibbin up for an early penalty attempt. The scrumhalf made the most of the opportunity, giving NSW a 3-0 lead with just three minutes on the clock.
The Chiefs countered immediately, with centre Charles Ngatai slicing through down the right side. The movement was stifled by some desperate cover defence from Drew Mitchell and debutant Cam Crawford, but came at the expense of the Wallaby winger, who limped off with a hamstring injury minutes later.
The end-to-end rugby continued from the restart, with dynamic backrower Michael Hooper linking well with Rob Horne, who fell agonisingly short of the try line.
The home side were quick to make amends, with a slick cut out pass from flyhalf Bernard Foley sending Adam Ashley- Cooper through a gap, for the centre to shrug off two defenders before sending Cam Crawford in for a try in his first game in blue. McKibbin’s conversion drifted wide but the miss failed to dampen a blistering start for the home side, who led 8-0 after just 15 minutes.
The defending champions were not lying down easily, and were back on the attack soon after. Two crunching tackles from NSW second rower Kane Douglas kept the men from Waikato at bay, but a lineout penalty gave them an opportunity to get on the scoreboard soon after. Replacement fullback Gareth Anscombe was unable to convert, with his long range attempt hitting the left upright. It was déjà vu just minutes later, with a penalty attempt from McKibbin also hitting the upright down the other end.
With only three minutes remaining in the half, Foley spotted space out wide and deftly chipped the ball across the field for man of the match Israel Folau, who made a spectacular leap over two Chiefs’ defenders to score his side’s second try of the game. McKibbin’s conversion took the score out to 15-0 on the 39 minute mark.
Anscombe was given an opportunity to open the Chiefs’ account in the shadows of half-time but when his penalty attempt drifted wide of the posts, the visitors were left scoreless at the break for the first time this season.
The second half did not start well for the HSBC Waratahs, when a high tackle from Sitaleki Timani on replacement Tim Nanai-Williams saw him sent to the bin in the 43rd minute.
The Chiefs were quick to capitalise on their advantage, with Aaron Cruden popping an offload to Gareth Anscombe, who evaded several defenders to dot down under the posts. The fullback converted his own try, narrowing the gap to 15-7 with 47 minutes gone.
A McKibbin penalty gave the home side some breathing room, but the reprieve was short lived as the Chiefs went on the attack through the skillful Cruden. The HSBC Waratahs again held firm in defence, with Folau swooping on a dangerous grubber kick, and Hooper holding up the sniping Brendan Leonard to force the visitors to settle for another three-pointer.
The Chiefs onslaught continued, but the home side dug deep to hold them out and althoug Anscombe found space running an incisive line outside captain Liam Messam, he was pulled down in another crucial tackle from Folau. A subsequent charge from Fritz Lee crossed the line, but Foley showed tremendous courage to roll the big No. 8 over and deny him a five pointer.
The Chiefs were again forced to settle for the three points, before McKibbin narrowly missed a penalty attempt of his own to leave the score at 18-13 with 15 minutes remaining in the game.
The relentless attack from the Chiefs began to take its toll, as the New Zealanders again built momentum in the red zone. Their pressure finally paid off, with prop Ben Tameifuna crashing through some exhausted defenders to score under the posts. The conversion from Anscombe sent the Chiefs into the lead for the first time in the game with just seven minutes to play.
Needing a try to steal a win, the home side showed their composure, working the ball down into the 22 for one last attacking raid. It was the impressive Foley who found space, holding a short ball up for replacement hooker John Ulugia to slip past Ben Tameifuna and leave the crowd to celebrate a well earned win.
The victory gives the HSBC Waratahs an important three points, lifting them to seventh on the table ahead of their two-week tour of Africa that will see them face the Bulls and Kings before coming home to take on the Stormers on Satruday May 8.
HSBC Waratahs 25 (tries: Crawford, Folau, Ulugia; pens: McKibbin 2; cons: McKibbin 2) defeated Chiefs 20 (tries: Anscombe, Tameifuna; pens: Anscombe 2; cons: Anscombe 2)
Half-time: HSBC Waratahs 15 – 0 Chiefs
HSBC Waratahs: 1. Benn Robinson (Eastwood), 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau (Parramatta), 3. Sekope Kepu (Randwick), 4. Sitaleki Timani (Southern Districts), 5. Kane Douglas (Southern Districts), 6. Dave Dennis (Sydney University, captain), 7. Michael Hooper (Manly), 8. Wycliff Palu (Manly), 9. Brendan McKibbin (Eastern Suburbs), 10. Bernard Foley (Sydney University), 11. Drew Mitchell (Balmain), 12. Rob Horne (Southern Districts), 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Northern Suburbs), 14. Cam Crawford (Northern Districts), 15. Israel Folau (Sydney University).
Replacements: 16. John Ulugia (Eastern Suburbs), 17. Paddy Ryan (Sydney University), 18. Mitchell Chapman (Eastern Suburbs), 19. Pat McCutcheon (Sydney University), 20. Matt Lucas (Manly), 21. Ben Volavola (Southern Districts), 22. Peter Betham (Sydney University).
Chiefs: 1. Pauliasi Manu, 2. Hika Elliot, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Michael Fitzgerald, 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam (captain), 7. Sam Cane, 8. Fritz Lee, 9. Brendon Leonard, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12. Richard Kahui, 13. Charlie Ngatai, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15, Andrew Horrell
Replacements: 16. Rhys Marshall, 17. Michael Kainga, 18. Nick Crosswell, 19. Tanerau Latimer, 20. Augustine Pulu, 21. Gareth Anscombe, 22. Tim Nanai-Williams
Yellow cards: Sitaleki Timani (43 mins)
Referee: Craig Joubert (RSA)
Man of the match: Israel Folau