Israel Folau inspired the Waratahs to an impressive 45-25 win over the Chiefs in Sydney on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Folau scored a brace of tries and created another, while making 186m and beating six defenders, according to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats. It was a simply sensational individual performance that saw the Tahs comfortably clinch a result that not many would have predicted before kick-off.
Although the Tahs came into the clash as the leading Aussie side, their form has been up and down this season, while the Chiefs have emerged as the Australasian front-runners. Yet the hosts produced a physical and fearless performance, particularly on defence, and proved to be far too strong for the Chiefs on the day.
The Waratahs played with plenty of pace and purpose early on, while their determined defence sent out a clear statement that they weren’t going to allow the high-flying Chiefs to completely dictate proceedings.
It was this defensive pressure that also appeared to play a part in forcing Chiefs scrumhalf Brad Weber to throw an ill-timed pass, with Folau snatching up the intercept and running all of 90m to score as the Tahs opened up a 10-0 lead with as many minutes played.
The hosts couldn’t have asked for a better start, but some good work was then undone when scrumhalf Nick Phipps failed to ground the ball in-goal, and Chiefs centre Seta Tamanivalu pounced on the loose ball to score. Moments later and the visitors doubled their lead as Damian McKenzie put Aaron Cruden away for the simplest of tries.
As the Chiefs settled into their stride, so the possession stats began to shift in their favour, while McKenzie slotted a penalty when Tahs No 8 Wycliff Palu was in the sin bin.
But the hosts struck a decisive blow just before half-time. A break from lock Will Skelton opened up the defence and captain Michael Hooper ran a good line to collect the ball and score under the posts to suddenly send the Waratahs into a 17-13 lead despite having had to do plenty of defending in the first half.
Revealingly, the Waratahs had enjoyed just 26% of territory in the opening stanza, while having just 1.3% of possession in the Chiefs’ 22, and yet they had the benefit of a handy four-point lead heading into the second half.
It was clearly evident that the Chiefs were battling to find the usual rhythm to their attack, but they finally managed to string some phases together in a beautiful side-to-side buildup that eventually culminated in hooker Nathan Harris scoring in the corner in the 49th minute.
Yet, just as the Chiefs had edged back into the lead, the Tahs hit right back as a typically dynamic break from Folau created a try for fullback Andrew Kellaway, and a mere minute later the hosts broke out from their half and Hooper barged over for his second try.
In the blink of an eye, the Waratahs were 31-18 ahead, and the result was effectively wrapped up when Phipps made a lovely little half-break and slipped the ball away for Folau to collect and score with only 15 minutes left to play.
Toni Pulu briefly threatened to spark a Chiefs comeback when he scored to reduce the deficit to 13 points, but the Tahs finished off the match in style as replacement Jack Dempsey burst through a missed tackle and went over to score the hosts' sixth try.
Waratahs – Tries: Israel Folau (2), Michael Hooper (2), Andrew Kellaway, Jack Dempsey. Conversions: Bernard Foley (6). Penalty: Foley.
Chiefs – Tries: Seta Tamanivalu, Aaron Cruden, Nathan Harris, Toni Pulu. Conversion: Damian McKenzie. Penalty: McKenzie.
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.
Subs: 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 (c), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 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.
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images