The Waratahs still have a pulse in Super Rugby 2017, after a 50-23 win over the Rebels.
Three tries in 10 minutes leading into half-time and another three in the final 13 gave the Waratahs their most emphatic win of the season.
It took less than two minutes for the Rebels’ already mounting injury worries to jolt to their lowest ebb of the season, with captain Reece Hodge stretchered off after a head knock.
Hodge was knocked out after a tackle on Wallabies teammate Israel Folau in the second minute though he was back on the sideline with teammates by the break.
Fullback Ben Volavola slotted the first points for the Rebels not long after to put the visitors in front, but the Waratahs answered immediately.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley capitalised on a half-chance, slipping through the Rebels defence, with Nick Phipps collecting the final pass to score seven minutes in.
Despite that handy try, the Waratahs had their own early woes, giving away six consecutive penalties for Tolu Latu to be yellow-carded just 17 minutes into the match, their first of two binnings for NSW.
NSW’s frustration was seeping into the public arena, with an exchange between an exasperated Michael Hooper and referee Angus Gardner.
“I’m trying by best,” Hooper said, in regards to relaying the message of discipline to his team.
Melbourne finally made the Waratahs pay for their ill-discipline with no. 8 Amanaki Mafi scoring his first Super Rugby try in a standout debut season, though Volavola’s patchy goalkicking and a Jackson Garden-Bachop pass that went straight into the hands of Waratahs winger Taqele Naiyaravoro kept the home side well in touch.
The Waratahs finally won a penalty in the 29th minute, through Hooper, and it was their skipper who made the break to put the Waratahs deep in attack, before a potential missed forward pass to Phipps kept them there.
A handful of phases later, lock Dean Mumm scored on the opposite edge before blindside flanker Ned Hanigan had the Waratahs’ third, opening up an eight-point buffer three minutes later.
Another Waratahs turnover gave Folau the chance to have the final say on the half, giving the Waratahs their biggest first-half tally since a round two loss to the Lions in South Africa.
Rebels replacement Jonah Placid had a double, with Israel Folau’s second sandwiched in between Placid’s, leaving the gap at six points.
It was Hooper who found his way to the line for the match-sealing try, to keep their conference hopes alive, before Damien Fitzpatrick had their seventh to put the result beyond any doubt.
Rebels winger Jack Maddocks was another with an early exit on Sunday, with an arm concern, that could deal a fatal blow to his U20s World Cup hopes as well, with the teen to fly out to Georgia after the game.
The Waratahs take on the Highlanders next weekend, while the Rebels host the Crusaders.
Tries: Folau 2, Phipps, Mumm, Hanigan, Hooper, Fitzpatrick, Hegarty
Cons: Foley 5
Yellow Cards: Latu (17’), Foley (49')
Tries: Placid 2, Mafi
Pens: Volavola 2