The Waratahs will leave Canberra with a critical 24-17 victory over the Brumbies but a major injury headache, after Israel Folau failed to finish the game.
Folau went off with a hamstring injury just four minutes into the Canberra clash, in a major blow for the Waratahs, who have exploited Folau’s aerial skills in impressive fashion in recent weeks.
The superstar back could miss 3-4 weeks with the injury and any absence would be a setback for the Waratahs, who face the Sunwolves, Reds and Lions in the next three weeks.
Folau’s fellow winger Taqele Naiyaravoro had a decisive impact on the contest, with tries either side of half-time that ultimately proved the difference between the two sides.
It was penalty central early, the sides traded three-pointers in the first 20 minutes, and only Bernard Foley’s 50 per cent return, the beginning of a very patchy night for the Waratahs 10 in front of goal, kept the Brumbies on level pegging.
Brumbies winger Lausi Taliuali changed all that in the 26th minute, pouncing on a grubber kick in the corner to score the first try of the night and that looked like being the only five-pointer, in a sloppy contest at GIO Stadium.
Naiyaravoro found his first opportunity for impact just shy of half-time, breaking away from the Brumbies defenders to score a long-range try and put the Waratahs in front at the break.
The mammoth winger bookended the half finishing a spectacular Alex Newsome run, collecting an inside ball from the replacement winger and crossing the line.
Waratahs centre Kurtley Beale tried to create some magic for the Waratahs, but the visitors couldn’t penetrate the Brumbies’ defence at times.
A high tackle from Richie Arnold gave Foley a chance to extend the Waratahs’ lead midway through the second half as they eked out some breathing space.
The second half descended into an arm wrestle, as the Waratahs struggled to stick their passes and the Brumbies battled to string any phases together.
There was little of the attacking brilliance the Waratahs showed against the Rebels a fortnight ago, with the forwards taking centre stage as the clock ticked down.
David Pocock made it through his return match unscathed, though he was no game changer, and was arguably bested by his opposite number in Michael Hooper.
A Pocock pilfer looked like it could be match-turning with five minutes to go, but the Waratahs won a scrum penalty to seal the win off Foley's boot.
The Brumbies won a penalty after full-time for one last crack at the line, but even their set piece couldn't conjure a miracle as they tried to create a rolling maul opportunity, ultimately conceding the final infringement and the match.
The Brumbies host the Reds in Canberra next weekend, in what now shapes as a make-or-break game, while the Waratahs travel to Japan to take on the Sunwolves.
Pens: Hawera 3
Tries: Naiyaravoro 2
Pens: Foley 4