Mark Nawaqanitawase escaped a serious neck injury after an awkward try-scoring fall but that’s where the good news finished for NSW on a foul night in Newcastle.
Hoping to avoid the unwanted record of dropping the opening two games for the first in the team’s Super Rugby history, the Waratahs were thumped by an efficient Blues outfit, who adapted far better to the wet and windy conditions and pocketed a bonus point win.
The Waratahs only trailed the Blues 8-7 at halftime but with a crumbling scrum, soft moments in defence and endless turnovers, the hosts conceded four tries in the second half and ended up losing 32-12.
Blues winger Winger Mark Telea bagged a hat-trick.
The grim occasion was made worse with a crowd figure of 7491, which was understandably low given the awful weather but still comfortably registered as the worst ever crowd for a Waratahs game in Super Rugby.
Nawaqanitawase threw a scare into the Waratahs camp - and for his family - when he landed badly on his neck when scoring a try in the second half, and concerned medical staff called for a stretcher.
But after a lengthy delay, the teenager ended up getting to his feet and walking unassisted up the tunnel.
A smiling Nawaqanitawase said on field after the game he was “sore” and but Waratahs coach Rob Penney said he’d appeared to have avoided a major injury.
"It was a very unusual way to end up,” Penney said.
"I think his upper thoracic (spine) has been stretched in an unusual way. He got a bit of a fright but he’s walking and talking and being his jovial self in the change room now. I don’t think there is anything
"It was one of those ones where he got a bit of a fright and came off and he has bounced back.”
Penney didn’t beat around the bush with his assessment of the Waratahs’ “anxious” performance, and saw sub-par efforts at scrum-time, “vulnerable” defence and a poor kicking game.
“All in all, a pretty disappointing performance,” Penney said.
"We came here with a clear plan and for one reason or another, we deviated off that a bit. That’s one of the big learnings we have to take away.
"When we have a plan and we have a strategy, just be patient with it. And we weren’t that tonight. I think a bit of anxiety crept in.”
The Blues had the upper hand in most facets of play, and the 20-point margin at full-time was more reflective of proceedings than the one-point difference after the first 40 minutes.
The Blues were prepared to play the conditions, using the boot, defensive muscle and breakdown pressure, and up against a Waratahs team who naively pursued their upper hand via ball movement and risky passes, it was money-for-jam.
The Blues’ scrum was dominant all night and they could barely hide their glee when NSW elected to take a scrum in the second half on their line, in an attempt to score and get back into the game.
The Blues humiliated the hosts by shoving off their ball. Any hope the Waratahs had of working back and winning the game sank into the sodden turf.
"We actually looked quite good in the five minutes coming into that scrum, we took that scrum, got pushed off it and the Blues tails went up,” Penney said.
"And they played appropriately. We succumbed.”
After two losses, the Waratahs will now meet the Melbourne Rebels, who are also winless. Penney said the team has to shore up the “soft moments” that have seen them beaten convincingly by the Crusaders and the Blues in the first two rounds.
"We have to shown some resilience, first and foremost,” Penney said.
"I was going to say we haven’t been totally outplayed in both games, but I said last week, we have to learn from last week and those soft moments where we are vulnerable in, we have to try and find a way to put some cement in there.
"We are all working hard to do that. We just have to keep endeavouring to get better. We can’t drop our lip but we can’t hide from the fact we weren’t anywhere near where we needed to be today, and step forward with the desire and accuracy we need to bring to the game."
Kicking was going to be a key component in slippery conditions and a Will Harrison tracer bullet gave the Waratahs the first opportunity to score after ten minutes.
But they botched the rolling maul, and ill-discipline not only saw them get marched back downfield, but concede the opening try as well.
The Waratahs conceded four consecutive penalties or short-arms and when Rob Simmons made a bad miss on Blues no.8 Hoskins Sotutu, the Aucklanders got in behind the Tahs and made them pay.
The ball was spun to the right sideline, where flanker Blake Gibson powered through a Mark Nawaqanitawase tackle to score.
On a night where playing at the right end was so important, the Waratahs were guilty of being too loose with their tactics in their own half, and instead of kicking long, continued to turn the ball over with low percentage passes.
Blues centre TJ Faine was lucky to not see a card when he was penalised for a high shot on Harrison in the 16th minute, and the no.10 then missed a kickable penalty.
The Blues scrum appeared to have the upper hand early, and the Blues pushed further ahead when a scrum penalty was kicked by Stephen Perofeta in the 24th minute.
The Waratahs finally got some momentum and some decent territory in the last ten minutes of the half, and when the Blues gave away a penalty in kicking range, the Tahs kicked to the corner instead.
It was a good call. After a dozen tight forward charges on the line were repelled, the ball was fed to the left and Lalakai Foketi did well to bump through a one-on-one tackle and score. Harrison nailed the conversion to make it 8-7 at the break.
The Blues got off to the perfect start after the break, however, when English recruit Joe Marchant strolled over for a too-easy try soon after oranges, when he slipped through two missed tackles near the line.
Things got worse for the Waratahs when the re-start didn't go ten metres, and the Blues subsequently hoisted a bomb to Harrison behind the left wing, and a counter-ruck by the Kiwis won the ball back.
Sotutu feathered a nice grubber through thereafter, and winger Mark Telea touched down for another simple five-pointer.
The Waratahs blew one of their few chances to score soon after when they worked down field and elected to take a scrum in front of the Blues posts.
It backfired. The Blues shoved NSW off their ball in humiliating fashion.
Perofeta had a chance to go three points further ahead but missed and the Waratahs turned to the bench for impact.
It worked, and NSW began to finally piece together some good phases.
Some good inroads behind the Blues line saw space finally created on the left wing, and Nawaqanitawase took a pass from Jack Dempsey and scored a diving try.
Nawaqanitawase took an awkward landing on his neck, however, and there were scary moments before the winger managed to walk unassisted up the tunnel for a HIA.
Any hopes of a fightback were short-lived, however, with the Waratahs continuing to try and play dry weather footy in the wet and, duly, turning over a mountain of ball in the last 15 minutes.
The Blues fed the ball twice to their left wing Telea, who finished twice against a tiring NSW defence.
TRIES: Telea 3, Gibson, Marchant
CONS: Plummer, Perofeta
TRIES: Nawaqanitawase, Foketi
Waratahs to face Blues
1. Tom Robertson
2. Robbie Abel
3. Harry Johnson-Holmes
4. Tom Staniforth
5. Rob Simmons (c)
6. Lachlan Swinton
7. Michael Hooper
8. Jack Dempsey
9. Jake Gordon
10. Will Harrison
11. Mark Nawaqanitawase
12. Karmichael Hunt
13. Lalakai Foketi
14. Alex Newsome
15. Kurtley Beale
Reserves: 16. Damien Fitzpatrick, 17. Angus Bell, 18. Tetera Faulkner, 19. Ryan McCauley, 20. Jed Holloway, 21. Tepai Moeroa, 22. Mitch Short, 23. Jack Maddocks
Blues to face Waratahs
1. Karl Tu’inukuafe
2. Kurt Eklund
3. Sione Mafileo
4. Patrick Tuipulotu (c)
5. Josh Goodhue
6. Dalton Papalii
7. Blake Gibson
8. Hoskins Sotutu
9. Jonathan Ruru
10. Stephen Perofeta
11. Mark Telea
12. TJ Faiane
13. Joe Marchant
14. Jordan Hyland
15. Matt Duffie
Reserves: 16. James Parsons, 17. Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18. Ofa Tuungafasi, 19. Tom Robinson, 20. Akira Ioane; 21. Sam Nock, 22. Harry Plummer, 23. Emoni Narawa