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By Waratahs Media Unit
Super Rugby Round 6
HSBC Waratahs 30 – 27 Blues
A penalty goal after the full time siren from man-of-the-match Bernard Foley saw the HSBC Waratahs clinch a thrilling 30-27 win over the Auckland Blues in front of a family-filled Allianz Stadium crowd this afternoon.
Foley’s last minute penalty capped off a remarkable turnaround for the home side, who were left reeling after conceding 24 first half points but turned it around after the break to come back from their largest half time deficit at home since 2007, much to the delight of the crowd and their head coach, Michael Cheika.
“We certainly showed a lot of courage,” said Cheika, praising his team’s second-half fightback.
“People wouldn’t have been running down to the betting shop to bet on us at half time that’s for sure. We had to connect into ourselves and say ‘right lads, this is the time to get the pace of the game back up and test the Blues out’.”
Cheika attributed his side’s composure after the break to the senior members of the playing group, saying, “Towards the end of the game in particular I think our leaders really came to the fore.
“They put us in good positions and that’s what we need. We need them to stand up when we’re in a bit of strife.”
Among those leaders was man of the match, Bernard Foley. “He took much more responsibility around directing the game,” said Cheika of his flyhalf. “He chose the options when it was time for him to run really well and he was able to keep the defence honest. There’s still room for a lot of improvement, but every week a little bit more and I’ll be happy with that.
After conceding an early penalty to Blues flyhalf Chris Noakes, the home side were the first to cross the try line through returning Wallaby winger Drew Mitchell. A slick interplay between Foley, halfback Brendan McKibbin and Adam Ashley-Cooper saw Israel Folau feed the last pass to Mitchell, who dived over in the left-hand corner to send the home side up by four after just eight minutes.
But the visitors hit straight back, with hooker hooker James Parsons jumping on a crucial turnover to dash 40 metres and steal a converted try on the 11 minute mark.
A McKibbin penalty again levelled the scores at 10-all, before sustained pressure from the Auckland side saw Noakes slide across the line from close range for the visitors’ second try of the afternoon after 28 minutes.
A converted try from Blues fullback Charles Piutau just two minutes later left the home side with considerable ground to recover, as they returned to the sheds trailing by 24-10, their largest half time deficit in a home match since 2007.
But in a show of mental toughness, a try on 47 minutes, set up by Foley and replacement halfback Matt Lucas and scored by Folau put the home side back in the game, with Foley’s conversion (in the absence of the injured McKibbin) narrowing the difference to seven points, 17-24.
After 14 phases of sustained pressure, the HSBC Waratahs added another try on 64 minutes when Foley snuck through the stretched midfield defence to stretch out for the tryline, levelling the scores at 24-all by converting his own effort.
With eight minutes remaining, the sides traded penalty goals to take the score to 27-all and set up a frenetic final stanza.
It looked for a moment like the home side might have squandered their chance when a 79th minute Foley dropgoal drifted wide but the flyhalf made amends with the final play of the match, nailing a placekick to seal victory and force the Blues to wait at least another year for the chance to end their 10-year Sydney losing streak.
The win sees NSW rise to third in the Australian Conference and will give them a lift as they look forward to another Sunday afternoon kick off next Sunday, March 31, when they take on the Force at Allianz Stadium (kick off 4.05pm).
HSBC Waratahs 30 (tries: Mitchell, Folau, Foley; pens: McKibbin, Foley 2; cons: McKibbin, Foley 2) defeated Blues 27 (tries: Parsons, Noakes, Piutau; pens: Noakes 2; cons: Noakes 3)
Half-time: HSBC Waratahs 10 – Blues 24
HSBC Waratahs: 1. Benn Robinson (Eastwood) 2. John Ulugia (Eastern Suburbs) 3. Paddy Ryan (Sydney University) 4. Sitaleki Timani (Southern Districts) 5. Kane Douglas (Southern Districts) 6. Dave Dennis (Sydney University, captain) 7. Michael Hooper (Manly) 8. Pat McCutcheon (Sydney University) 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. Peter Betham (Sydney University) 15. Israel Folau (Sydney University)
Replacements: 16. Luke Holmes (Warringah) 17. Sekope Kepu (Randwick) 18. Mitchell Chapman (Eastern Suburbs) 19. Jed Holloway (Southern Districts) 20. Matt Lucas (Manly) 21. Ben Volavola (Southern Districts) 22. Tom Kingston (Sydney University)
Auckland Blues: 1. Tom McCartney 2. James Parsons 3. Charlie Faumuina 4. Culum Retallick 5. Ali Williams (captain) 6. Steven Luatua 7. Luke Braid 8. Peter Saili 9. Piri Weepu 10. Chris Noakes 11. George Moala 12. Francis Saili 13. Rene Ranger 14. Frank Halai 15. Charles Piutau
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
Yellow cards: None
Referee: Francisco Pastrana