The Waratahs consolidated their position at the top of the Australian Conference after claiming a 45-25 win over the Chiefs in Sydney on Friday.
In an entertaining encounter the Waratahs rediscovered their mojo – after last weekend’s loss to the Crusaders – and outscored their visitors six tries to four with Michael Hooper and Israel Folau leading the charge with a brace apiece.
The home side were full value for their victory and dominated for large periods, although the Chiefs will be kicking themselves as they were still in this game at half-time – when the Waratahs led 17-13 – but they went off the boil during the second half with Hooper’s tries, either side of the interval, proving decisive in the end.
The result means the Sydneysiders are now five points clear at the top of the Australian Conference table although their closest rivals, the Brumbies, can draw level or narrow the gap if they beat the Sunwolves in Canberra on Saturday.
The Chiefs are still at the top of the New Zealand Conference standings but they could lose their position if the Crusaders, who are one point adrift, beat the Blues on Saturday in Auckland.
The opening half started at a frenetic pace with both sides giving the ball plenty of air, although the Waratahs opened the scoring in the first minute via a Bernard Foley penalty.
It didn’t take long for them to increase their lead though and it happened against the run of play when Folau intercepted a Brad Weber pass, close to his try-line, and raced the full length of the field before crossing over in the left-hand corner.
Foley added the extras but the Chiefs soon reduced their lead when Seta Tamanivalu stabbed a grubber kick through, deep inside the Chiefs’ 22, and dived onto the ball behind the Waratahs’ line after Nick Phipps failed to dot down himself.
Although Aaron Cruden failed to add the extras, the All Blacks pivot soon drew his side level when he crossed for their second try after Damian McKenzie did well to beat two defenders in the build-up.
The home side suffered a temporary setback in the 26th minute when Wycliff Palu was yellow carded for executing a dangerous neck roll tackle on Tamanivalu.
Although they were hampered by Palu’s temporary exit, the Waratahs did well to only concede three further points, via a McKenzie penalty.
Shortly after returning from his stint in the sin-bin, Palu played a crucial role in the build-up to his side’s third try. After taking the ball in to contact, he managed to free his arms and offloaded to Will Skelton, who offloaded, close to the Chiefs’ 22, to Hooper who showed the cover defence a clean pair of heels before dotting down under the posts on the stroke of half-time.
The Chiefs upped the ante after the restart and, after taking the ball out wide, they were rewarded when Nathan Harris popped up on the wing and powered over in the left hand corner.
The visitors’ lead was short-lived, however, as the Waratahs took them on at their running game and one minute later Andrew Kellaway got over for his side’s third try after Folau and Foley were prominent in the build-up.
The next ten minutes were crucial in the grander scheme of things and the ‘Tahs underlined their dominance with further tries from Hooper and Folau which meant they were leading 38-18 with less than 20 minutes to play.
The Chiefs struck back shortly afterwards when Toni Pulu gathered a delightful cross-field kick from Cruden, before crossing for the visitors’ fourth try.
That didn’t deter the Waratahs though, as they continued to attack and they sealed victory with a Jack Dempsey try shortly before the end.
Tries: Folau 2, Hooper 2, Kellaway, Dempsey
Cons: Foley 6
Yellow Card: Palu
Tries: Tamanivalu, Cruden, Harris, Pulu
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Reece Robinson
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Sam Vaka
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, Ed Martin
TMO: Peter Marshall