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Waratahs' wall returns for Super revival

Sun, 13/02/2022, 9:05 am
AAP
by AAP
The Reds hosted the Waratahs in the final trial match of 2022.

A defensive test deep within enemy territory has proved a crucial validation of the NSW Waratahs' improvement a week out from the Super Rugby Pacific season.

Pummelled in a winless season last year, the Waratahs have turned to new coach Darren Coleman to lead the revamped and youthful side out of an historic hole.

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The signs of progress were there in Roma on Saturday night, the Waratahs winning the physical battle and repelling the Queensland Reds' all-star backline in a 21-14 win.

The victory followed pre-season wins over the Brumbies and last weekend's novel clash against three separate Shute Shield teams on one day.

Saturday's game, about 500km west of Brisbane, almost didn't happen when more than 2000 rowdy fans were left in darkness by a city-wide blackout 25 minutes before kick-off.

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The power returned just as officials were set to call off the game and it was the Waratahs who handled the 80-minute delay best, racing to a 14-0 lead in a dominant first half.

Fullback Alex Newsome was impressive, scoring and assisting before Coleman made widespread changes and the visitors held off the Reds' resurgence — in a big confidence booster before their season opener against newcomers Fijian Drua on Friday.

Their defensive starch was the big takeaway considering the Waratahs conceded 154 more points than they scored across eight rounds of last year's Super Rugby AU season. 

"It was a funny start; we didn't know whether we'd be playing or not," Newsome said.

"But the defence was probably the best component of the first half, then the younger boys came on at the back end when (Wallabies prop Taniela) Tupou was wreaking some havoc in the scrum, to maintain some composure and close the game down.

"It wasn't so much a statement, just for ourselves to build confidence.

"Trials are trials, but you do build confidence playing against a strong outfit like that."

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Reds coach Brad Thorn admitted they had some work to do, but that the Waratahs had shown they'll be a threat again in 2022.

"They won that physical battle; they have shown they're going to be competitive," he said.

"It's good engagement for us, because we need to pick up our level a bit."

Welsh recruit Jamie Roberts sauntered off after a head knock in the first half in the only injury concern for the Waratahs.

Newsome hoped to have cemented his place in the No.15 jersey, ahead of Kurtley Beale's expected return next season and the exit of Jack Maddocks to the Melbourne Rebels in the off-season. 

"I loved it, played a fair bit there coming through but there's been a few good fullbacks that have occupied the jersey while I've been here ... (Israel) Folau, KB (Beale) and Maddocks," he said.

"Hopefully I can stay there."

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