Another run left just too late kept New Zealand’s trans-Tasman stranglehold in place, as the Waratahs went down 38-28 to the Hurricanes on Friday night.
Three tries in the opening 12 minutes had the Waratahs eating the Hurricanes’ dust and it was a margin that ultimately proved too much to run down.
Though NSW found their way as the match went on, an opening half riddled with errors and 26 missed tackles left them 27 points down at the break.
The Waratahs kicked their little possession away often in that first stanza, with poor execution off the boot again hurting them against the ruthless counter-attacking Wellington side.
Just a good bounce of the ball prevented the Waratahs from conceding a try in the opening minute minute, but 30 seconds later, Ngani Laumape had his first of a double.
Beauden Barrett added a try in the 7th minute, after a Michael Wells pass landed in Laumape’s hands, before Jordie completed the family set five minutes later.
Twenty-one points down just 12 minutes in, momentum shifted NSW’s way as the older Barrett was sent to the bin, Ned Hanigan taking advantage with the Waratahs’ first.
The Hurricanes seemed to find an answer for any slice of Waratahs’ positivity, scoring tries almost at will in the opening 40.
Bryce Hegarty stopped a near-certain try, before a defensive overlap caught the Waratahs fullback in between a pair of Hurricanes, giving Wes Goosen the Kiwis’ fourth.
David Horwitz’s own try-saving chase was negated just one play later, as Hurricanes lock Mark Abbott pounced on set piece ball to notch their fifth first-half try.
The Waratahs started the second half in perfect fashion, shunning the kicking they’d favoured in the first 40, a Jake Gordon break finished by Hegarty in the 43rd minute sparking comeback hopes.
Gordon finished off himself to notch his third career try as the resurgence got serious, but a second Ngani Laumape kept the Waratahs at arm’s length.
Bernard Foley was a calming influence, injecting some creativity at times and booting four from four, but their comeback hopes looked dashed after he was beaten one-out by Matt Proctor.
Laumape finished the ensuing counterattack, after a brilliant Beauden Barrett cameo.
Israel Folau made his own cameo setting Andrew Kellaway up for a try, his pass the meat in a Bernard Foley-Kellaway sandwich, with the young winger narrowing the margin to 10 points with 10 minutes left.
A red for Beauden Barrett gave them yet more cause for hope, deep in attacking territory, but the clock proved as much of an enemy as anything, with an 82nd-minute Irae Simone attempt and losing bonus point snatched away within reach.
A victorious second half will be hollow consolation for the Waratahs, as they enter the bye with just two wins from seven starts and finals looking ever more unlikely.
NSW skipper Michael Hooper lamented another slow start, speaking to SkySports post-match.
"Our fight can’t be questioned this year, we throw it on in the last 40 most games this year, barring last week, but the first 20 is an issue for us and it’s really frustrating," he said.
"I think we’re committing a lot to rucks not backing our defence in its entirety and that's leaving good teams with easy gaps, easy holes and the backline of the canes was too good, taking points all over."
Tries: Laumape 2, B Barrett, J Barrett, Goosen, Abbott
Cons: J Barrett 4
Yellow cards: B Barrett (18’)
Red card: B Barrett (78’)
Tries: Hanigan, Hegarty, Gordon, Kellaway
Cons: Foley 4