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By Waratahs Media Unit
HSBC Waratahs 23 – 19 Western Force
Super Rugby Round 7, Allianz Stadium
A try to Adam Ashley-Cooper in his 100th Super Rugby game and six penalty goals from scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin saw the HSBC Waratahs overcome an abrasive Western Force outfit at Allianz Stadium this afternoon.
Despite recording only 41% possession in the match, the home side’s composure and determined defence helped shut out a forward-dominated Western Force side. Head Coach Michael Cheika praised his side’s ability to clinch a second tight win in as many weeks, despite the Western Force dictating the terms of play for much of the match.
“I think it was a real game of contrasting styles,” said Cheika after the match. “They played a very tight, pick and go, punch-through style where they were quite effective and we were trying to play with a bit more width. When we had any type of flow they generally fouled so we had to take the penalty kick.”
Cheika was again impressed with his senior leadership group’s role in the win, saying “The guys that we’ve started grooming in leadership roles are starting to take their responsibility really seriously and committing to the cause and that’s helping a lot of guys to come follow and want to be a part of it.”
As well as the impressive Ashley-Copper, Cheika was pleased with fullback Israel Folau, who looked dangerous with every touch of the ball. “I’ve been quite happy with his progression and level of comfort. We’re seeing him now have very little doubt in what he’s doing when he’s entering the line. His ruck work is good, he’s great under the high ball and then he’s making metres. It’s up to us to try and orchestrate some more space for him to show his true talents,” Cheika said.
The win brings NSW back to back victories for the first time this season but said the head coach, “We’re not going to get too carried away. We’re going to say ‘OK, let’s keep doing it every day, let’s do it every day for the whole season, see where we’re at the end of that season, and we’ll do it every day the next season and then hopefully we’re a little bit better, and so forth.”
It was the Western Force on the attack early, with the HSBC Waratahs forced to defend for several minutes within their own 22m. The sustained pressure paid off, with flyhalf Sias Ebersohn adding two early penalty goals to move the score to 6-0 after just eight minutes of play.
The HSBC Waratahs responded through scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin, who converted two long-range opportunities of his own to level the scores at 6-all after 18 minutes.
Momentum swung further in the HSBC Waratahs’ favour, as Force prop Salesi Ma’afu was yellow carded for a high shot on hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau midway through the first half.
The home side were quick to exploit their numerical advantage, with flyhalf Bernard Foley and fullback Folau linking well down the right side to send their team deep into the attacking zone and earning McKibbin another shot at goal, which was duly converted.
Ill discipline continued to prove costly for the visitors in the first half, with the Force conceding eight penalties in the first half hour of play. Their continued indiscretion allowed McKibbin to add two further penalties and take the home side out to a 15-6 lead in the 33rd minute.
An Ebersohn penalty goal reined the Force deficit back to six points at the half time interval, but was quickly counteracted by a sixth three-pointer to McKibbin just after the break.
From the restart, a half break by the dangerous Folau opened up attacking opportunities out wide for Foley, who fed a looping cut-out pass to centurion Ashley-Cooper for the first try of the match. McKibbin failed to convert a tricky shot from the sideline, leaving the score at 23-9 after 48 minutes.
The visitors responded quickly, reining in their discipline and stringing together a number of attacking opportunities. Their consistent pressure was rewarded in the 54th minute, with fullback Alfie Mafi crashing over in the right corner.
Ebersohn added the conversion from the sideline and then slotted his fourth penalty soon after to take the Perth franchise to within four with a quarter of the game to play.
Needing a try to steal a late win, the Force ensured a nail biting finish as they mounted one last attacking raid after the full time siren. It was Benn Robinson, also making his 100th Super Rugby appearance, who proved the hero for the home side – forcing a crucial turnover in his own 22 and allowing McKibbin to boot the ball into touch and record NSW’s third win of the season.
The HSBC Waratahs now travel to Wellington and face the Hurricanes, who also recorded a victory this weekend, at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
HSBC Waratahs 23 (tries: Ashley-Cooper; pens: McKibbin 6) defeated Western Force 19 (tries: Mafi; pens: Ebersohn 4; cons: Ebersohn)
Half-time: HSBC Waratahs 15 – Western Force 9
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. Tatafu Polota-Nau (Parramatta) 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)
Western Force: 1. Pek Cowan 2. Heath Tessmann 3. Salesi Ma’afu 4. Toby Lynn 5. Hugh McMeniman 6. Ben McCalman 7. Matt Hodgson (captain) 8. Richard Brown 9. Alby Mathewson 10. Sias Ebersohn 11. Junior Rasolea 12. Kyle Godwin 13. Winston Stanley 14. Patrick Dellit 15. Alfie Mafi
Replacements: 16. Ben Whittaker 17. Kieran Longbottom 18. Sam Wykes 19. Chris Alcock 20. Sam Christie 21. Jayden Hayward 22. Sam Norton-Knight
Yellow cards: Salesi Ma’afu (20 mins)
Referee: Steve Walsh