The Waratahs kept their hopes of a top-three finish alive after claiming a thrilling 38-32 victory over the Rebels in Leichhardt on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
Going into the match, the Waratahs needed a bonus-point victory and had to deny the Rebels a losing bonus-point to secure their place in the qualifier against the second-placed Reds. The Rebels only needed to win, given that the Waratahs have a bye – and therefore won’t be getting any points – in next week’s final weekend of round-robin fixtures.
As it would happen, the Waratahs’ character of being unable to consolidate a score came back to bite them. While they scored five tries, which could have been enough for a bonus point, they conceded four and gave away a cheap penalty late in the match which allowed the Rebels to escape with a vital losing bonus point.
The Rebels now face what appears a relatively simple task of beating the winless Western Force next weekend to progress to the second vs third playoff, while the Waratahs will be hoping the Force can do them a favour and stun Dave Wessels’ side.
The Waratahs had all the momentum in the first half, taking a 17-10 lead into the break thanks to tries from Jake Gordon and Jack Dempsey. However, the Rebels did get an important breakthrough towards the end of the half, when To’omua ran a brilliant angle to charge over the line after the Waratahs lost Ned Hanigan to the sin bin.
It was game on in the second half as the Rebels quickly drew level when No 8 Isi Naisarani snuck over the tryline from the back of a driving maul. The Waratahs hit back almost immediately as Harry Johnson-Holmes drove himself over the line and then laid what appeared to be a decisive blow as Michael Hooper got Joey Walton away for his first Super Rugby try.
The Rebels stayed in the contest as Marika Koroibete reached over for a controversial try as it appeared Billy Meakes took out a Waratahs defender in the buildup. The game appeared to be shifting back in the Rebels’ favour when Naisarani got his brace – despite it appearing that Meakes was in touch in the buildup – but the Waratahs were able to keep the lead as Hooper charged down an attempted clearance, allowing Harrison to pounce on a loose ball and sprint clear to score.
The Waratahs continued to look for another score, desperate for a winning bonus point, but their discipline let them down as To’omua knocked over a penalty to see the Rebels stay in the seven-point margin.
It is all set up for an exciting final match between the Rebels and Western Force.
Waratahs – Tries: Jake Gordon, Jack Dempsey, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Joey Walton, Will Harrison. Conversions: Will Harrison (5). Penalty: Harrison.
Rebels – Tries: Matt To’omua, Isi Naisarani, (2) Marika Koroibete. Conversions: To’omua (3). Penalty: To’omua (2).
Waratahs – 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 James Ramm, 13 Joey Walton, 12 Tepai Moeroa, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachie Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Tom Horton, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel. 17 Angus Bell, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Will Harris, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Ben Donaldson, 23 Nick Malouf.
Rebels – 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Matt To’omua, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Andrew Deegan, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Trevor Hosea, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Cameron Orr.
Subs: 16 Efitusi Ma’afu, 17 Cabous Eloff, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Michael Stolberg, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Billy Meakes, 23 Tom Pincus.
Photo: Getty Images