UPDATE: Penney pleased after Waratahs' comeback win over the Force

Super Rugby - AU
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

UPDATE: Waratahs coach Rob Penney has praised his side's adaptability after a come-from-behind 23-14 win over the Force.

Nearly three years to the day after these two teams faced off in what appeared to be the Force’s final Super Rugby game, they delivered a rollercoaster ride.

The Force led 14-0 by the half-hour and certainly looked far from a team that has been exiled from Super Rugby action since 2017.

In the next 33 minutes, the Waratahs scored 23 unanswered points of their own and a Tom Staniforth try gave the hosts a six-point advantage in the final stages.

As the clock ticked down, NSW began to take the momentum and the Force battled to work their way into their attacking half.

Penney said he was pleased his players were able to change tact after pushed passes and basic errors left them lagging at the break.

"They (the Force) came with a lot of emotion and no matter what you do behind the scenes to generate that yourself, there was always a little bit about the unknown and we're still a group that are finding our way in terms of preparation and competing at this level," he said.

"We probably fell into the trap early on of young guys trying to express themselves a little bit too much too early and that's where the errors came and that compounded.

"A lot of credit goes to the boys to be able to change tactically and adjust what they needed to do to get the outcome. It's a step forward in the right direction."

While the emotion the WA side have been riding in the lead-up to their first Super Rugby AU match has been well-publicised, the Force showed they bring far more to the table.

 

If there were any team that could have been considered vulnerable to a Force boilover it shaped to be the Waratahs, who had won just one game in Super Rugby earlier this year before the competition was shut down.

Western Force coach Tim Sampson said he was proud of his team for their competitive showing after many pundits had written them off well before kick-off.

"In the first half in terms of executing a game plan the guys were on point and although up at half-time, the players were really composed and just little 15-minute window in the second half where we just needed to tidy up our game a bit but otherwise pretty happy," he said.

"We didn't come into about wanting to prove a point, we know where we're heading as a club and we''re in a really good position and we're rapt to be playing in this competition. I think people within our organisation knew what we were going to deliver tonight and it's one to be proud of.

"I'm sure here's a lot of people back home that were rapt to see us out there playing but happy with that performance."

For the first half hour it looked as though the Waratahs' dire 2020 was set to continue.

Experienced Force halves Jono Lance and Ian Prior steered the ship well and their forwards set the benchmark in the opening half especially.

Sampson praised Lance after his first outing back at the Force since 2017.

 

"He's a player I think throughout the competition is just going to grow from strength week to week.

For the Waratahs, Michael Hooper led the way with four turnovers and 16 tackles while Karmichael Hunt was important off the bench.

Penney could only marvel at Hooper's work rate, speaking after the match.

"He's terrific isn't he? And he got a couple of genuine steals at critical moments," he said.

The Waratahs were left to rue some of the same old errors with a host of turnovers and some ill-discipline snuffing out some changes.

The Force put the pressure on in attack early but were unable to get much pay in open play and neither side was really able to convert their opportunities.

Force captain Ian Prior had the first chance at the posts and converted that chance in the 14th minute.

NSW’s backline began to push passes in attack and looked quickly to the edge when they began to make ground, something that was picked off by the Force defence.


It took until the half hour mark but the Force were the first to score with winger Byron Ralston collecting a Henry Stowers offload to score in the 29th minute.

Two more Prior penalties opened up a 14-0 lead for the Force deep in the first half as the Waratahs battled to make their way back into the match.

Where the Force kept the scoreboard ticking over, the Waratahs turned down their chance at the posts and looked to the corner.

It was a risk that paid off with Angus Bell crashing over to finish off an impressive driving maul and narrowing the gap to just seven points at the break.

The Waratahs turned up the pace in the second half and were the ones putting the heat on the visitors and a Will Harrison penalty made the margin just four points in the 45th minute.

Hunt made an impact immediately after coming on, launching a 50/22 that opened up the field position that led to a Tom Staniforth try and a NSW lead for the first time of the night.

With news the Waratahs have signed Kyle Godwin, there was some doubt cast over Hunt's future this week but Penney hinted that the veteran centre would be back in 2021.

"Karmichael's been gold the last, since forever - he's had 17 years as a pro.

"It' seems to me that he's got a deep desire to continue and that's what we want to see.

"His contribution tonight as part of that mature group off the bench contributed greatly, those couple of 50/20s, couple of robust carries.

"He's doing everything asked of him and more at the moment, which is wonderful to see."

Another Harrison penalty took the Waratahs out to a nine-point advantage and they kept the ball parked in their attacking 22 for the final minutes.

The Waratahs take on the Brumbies at ANZ Stadium Stadium in round three while the Force travel to Brisbane to face the Reds.

RESULT

Waratahs 23

Tries: Bell, Staniforth

Cons: Harrison 2

Pens: Harrison 3

Force 14

Tries: Ralston

Pens: Prior 3