The Waratahs' hopes of making the Super 14 semi-finals are still alive after holding off the Lions 38-33 in what was a nail-biting clash on Friday.
The Waratahs' hopes of making the Super 14 semi-finals are still alive after holding off the Lions 38-33 in a nail-biting clash at Coca-Cola Park on Friday.
In a hugely exciting and tense encounter, the Waratahs move into third place on the standings courtesy of their five-pointer but will be watching the results of the remaining matches with great interest – their road to the semis in no way certain.
In a tale of two halves, the Waratahs rushed into an early lead and looked like running away with matters. However the Australians didn't bank on an almost match-winning second half performance from the home side as the clash went down to the last minute of the game.
The Waratahs inflicted first blood in the opening five minutes of the match following a speculative pass to Peter Playford who wasn't expecting it, the ball going loose and the try scored with some ease by Lachie Turner.
With double the time passed, the Waratahs doubled their try-scoring tally through Dean Mumm and the visitors were half way enroute to a bonus point victory and a place in the top four.
They had battled to score tries all season – averaging under two per match – but within ten minutes had already achieved that record.
However, the tenacity of the home side should never be questioned and after a couple of excellent opportunities created that could not be finished, they finally came good through Jano Vermaak diving over a mass of bodies to score his team's first try.
Fly-half Andre Pretorius converted and along with an earlier penalty, there were only four points in it.
With three tries in the opening quarter, the game threatened to open up into something of a try-scoring feast. The Waratahs were chasing a bonus point victory and the Lions were hoping to finish their season on a high.
However, there was another reversal of fortunes, this time back in the visitors' favour when a high risk long throw-in by the Lions close on their line was snapped up by captain Phil Waugh who scored the easiest of tries.
The bonus point came moments later with Playford dancing through the defence to score his team's fourth try.
The half ended with the Lions on attack but failing to make it count. Down 28-13, there was plenty of work do be done if they hoped to salvage a match that was getting away from them.
They certainly eased the burden when Pretorius made a great offload to his half-back partner Vermaak – running the perfect line – and the nippy scrum-half was over under the posts soon after the break.
With the conversion and a further drop-goal from Pretorius, the lead was reduced to just five points after ten minutes of the second half and it was game on.
Pretorius just kept chipping away at the deficit and after another penalty minutes later, the lead was down to just two points. Further advantage accrued when Waratahs centre Timana Tahu was given his marching orders for a high tackle – the third by his side.
His team were starting to look tired with the Highveld air draining them, and certainly in danger of watching a bonus-point win slip out of their grasp, and so too their semi-final hopes.
The numbers advantage came to fruition as excellent work on attack as well as at the breakdown saw burly number eight Willem Alberts drive over the tryline as his team took the lead for the first time in the game.
But with time ticking away, the old Lions bogey crept back in – kicking possession away and missing first-time tackles. This allowed the Waratahs back into the game as the lead once again changed hands back into the visitors' favour when replacement Tom Carter crossed the whitewash untouched.
With time up on the clock, the Lions took the ball through ten phases as they hammered away at the visitors. Finally breaking through, it seemed a match-winning try was scored – only to be called back for a forward pass and a deserving victory snatched from their hands.
It was a close call from referee Marius Jonker and one that will be up for debate for many weeks to come. The Waratahs of course will be putting the South African ref on their Christmas list.
Tries: Vermaak 2, Alberts
Cons: Pretorius 3
Pen: Pretorius 2
Drop: Pretorius 2
Tries: Turner, Mumm, Waugh, Playford, Carter
Cons: Halangahu 5
Yellow card: Tahu, 54 min (Waratahs; high tackle)
Lions: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Dusty Noble, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Andre Pretorius (c), 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Robert Kruger, 6 Johan van Deventer, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton van Zyl, 3 Gert Muller, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Lawrence Sephaka.
Replacements: 16 Hans van Dyk, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Ernst Joubert, 19 Todd Clever, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Earl Rose, 22 Walter Venter.
Waratahs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Peter Playford, 13 Timana Tahu, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Will Caldwell, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Chris Thomson, 19 Luke Doherty, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Sam Norton-Knight, 22 Tom Carter.
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Touch judges: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Pro Legoete (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)