The Waratahs overcame stiff Lions resistance, their own mental jitters, and some atrocious Sydney weather, to record a bonus-point 26-3 win over the Lions in the Super 14 on Saturday.
After a scoreless first half, ruined both by the weather and some poor handling, the Waratahs finally broke their duck in the second half, and two tries in three minutes around the hour mark sealed the win that ought to have been wrapped up long before.
The first half finished scoreless, and it was lucky to do so. Both sides showed plenty of willing spirit, but the flesh was alarmingly weak. Most expected as such from the Lions, but the home side was terribly disappointing.
Sam Norton-Knight, Lote Tuqiri, Kurtley Beale, Wycliff Palu, Dean Mumm and Rob Horne all enjoyed clean breaks, and each opportunity was butchered. The passing from the Waratahs was clean all over the pitch, until they entered the Lions' 22. Then suddenly, the soft hands would become calloused meat hooks, incapable of holding anything.
Territory and possession was 50-50 at the break, which seemed odd. The Lions had fought gamely, but only really created one clear opportunity, which Joe van Niekerk spoiled by trying to steam at pace onto a ball that Jaco van Schalkwyk wanted fired out to his backs. That was a shame, because the move up the right - with Van Niekerk at its heart - had been a superb one, and worthy of a greater reward.
That was the story of the first half. The Waratahs had more ideas to begin with, but poor execution stumped them, as did the rain which poured harder and harder as it went on. The Lions impressed with earnest endeavour, which unfortunately only showcased how little game-breaking talent they have.
The wind was blowing the rain down the pitch in sheets by the start of the second half, rendering any game-breaking action at a likely premium. In the end, it was a free-kick conceded by the Lions for slowing the ball down that sparked the opening score.
The tapped ball was shipped down the line to Tuqiri, who did well to stay infield in the tackle. Benn Robinson then took the ball on, and was stopped blades of grass short, but a clever pass by Beale to Waugh saw the captain home in the corner. Beale's conversion was windswept and wide.
Van Schalkwyk closed the gap to two with a penalty awarded against Robinson for driving up in a scrum, but moments later, Kurtley Beale opened up the game once more, breaking the line cleanly and then chipping ahead before being taken out to win a penalty. From the tap, Luke Burgess put Mumm away, and he went under the posts.
Then, a gift. Van Schalkwyk dilly-dallied over a clearance kick, Tatafu Polota-Nau closed him down, and the charge-down bounced kindly under the posts. Polota-Nau scored. Suddenly, it was more a case of when the bonus point would come, rather than whether the win would come.
It came with nine minutes remaining. A break by Luke Burgess culminated in a grubber to touch, but the Waratahs turned the ball over at the line-out, and five minutes of heavy pressure yielded a driving maul, at the bottom of which was Adam Freier, as it rumbled over the line. Four tries, five points, game over.
Man of the match: Not many stood out, certainly none of the Lions. Kurtley Beale and Rob Horne both played consistently, Phil Waugh led by example, and Dan Vickerman ruled the line-outs. But Dean Mumm was the one who put himself about most energetically, and crucially for his team, nearly error-free.
Moment of the match: That lone Lions move of the first half, involving Van Niekerk, Jaco Pretorius, and Willem Alberts up the right. It was terrific.
Villain of the match: The rain gods. Spoilsports.
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Waugh, Mumm, Polota-Nau, Freier
Cons: Beale 3
For the Lions:
Pen: Van Schalkwyk
Waratahs: 15 Sam Norton-Knight, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Dan Vickerman, 4 Will Caldwell, 3 Matt Dunning, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Al Baxter, 18 David Lyons, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Matt Carraro, 22 Alfi Mafi.
Lions: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Dusty Noble, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Jaco van Schalkwyk, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Joe van Niekerk, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Gerhard Mostert, 4 Dewald Senekal, 3 JC Janse van Rensburg, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 Franco van der Merwe,19 Wilhelm Koch, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Rudi Vogt, 22 Jannie Boshoff.
Referee: Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Nathan Pearce (Australia)
Television match official: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)
Assessor: Scott Young (Australia)