The Waratahs have stretched their Australian conference lead without two of their biggest names.
What are we talking about after their 31-26 win over the Rebels?
1. Derby fit for conference leaders
This match was one for the Australian conference lead and it was a fitting display for the stakes on offer. A frenetic match up showed why these two teams are at the top of the conference, and delivered for spectators at the ground and at home. It was a to-and-fro match, with the Waratahs holding the lead at the break before the Rebels hit back, showing their development from the sides’ last match. Ultimately, a little bit of the Waratahs’ class just stood up, but it could have easily gone the other way. No matter the outcome, it was a good advertisement for Australian rugby.
2. Miller doing more than just a Hooper impression
Will MIller had a daunting responsibility on Friday night, not that he seems to be daunted by much, stepping into Michael Hooper’s shoes. It was the first time anyone has played in that seven jumper other than Hooper since the Waratahs skipper came to NSW, but Miller took it in his stride. The openside was influential in Melbourne and snatched the last-second turnover to prevent a Rebels score deep in NSW’s defensive zone. It took the former dairy farmer a while to warm to the notion of a professional rugby career, but he is showing every week why he is the perfect fit for it.
3. Naiyaravoro the finisher
Taqele Naiyaravoro could leave Australian rugby with a record to his name, after another try for the Waratahs. His 18th-minute score was his 12th this season, equalling Israel Folau’s 2014 record tally. Any try in his final matches with the Waratahs would assure him a standalone place in that record. The man can finish.
4. Philip fills the void
The Rebels needed their second rowers to step out in the absence of captain Adam Coleman. Enter Matt Philip. Yes, he’s been in and around the starting team for much of the season, but on Friday night he showed some of the form that had him demanding a Wallabies Spring Tour spot last year. Philip finished with 97 metres off 19 carries, and added six tackles to that count as well.
5. TMO taking too much time
It’s been a week where officiating has dominated the conversation on a number of levels and one incident tonight would only have reinforced frustrations about the use of TMO. In the 57th minute of a thrilling derby, play was stopped and rewound to investigate a possible Bernard Foley tackle on Anaru Rangi, as the Rebels hooker slipped down through Foley’s grasp. It took three minutes of back and forth for referee Nic Berry to blow a penalty for the contact, in what ultimately proved an unnecessary delay. Unfortunately it’s becoming an all too familiar sight for rugby fans, and though player welfare is pivotal, the process seem to be tipping too far into the bureaucratic than the practical.