The Waratahs beat the Rebels 18-16 in Sydney on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
After the Brumbies' bonus-point victory against the Highlanders on Friday, the Tahs needed to win this Australian derby to stay in conference contention. They did so by scoring three tries to one, but it was not a convincing performance from the champions who were never able to put the visitors away. It didn't help that Bernard Foley had an off-day with the boot, missing four shots at goal.
Foley's game management had been instrumental in the Waratahs' win against the Hurricanes last weekend, and it was his grubber into the corner that led to his side's first try at Stadium Australia. The Rebels were forced to carry the ball into touch and Michael Hooper went over from an excellent lineout driving maul. Foley missed the conversion, but slotted a penalty soon afterwards.
The Tahs extended their lead when they went wide from a lineout on halfway. Israel Folau didn't get the ball in midfield, but pulled in two defenders, which allowed Hooper to break away. He found Adam Ashley-Cooper, who cut back inside to score a try that made it 13-0 after 20 minutes.
The Rebels were reduced to 14 men when Sefanaia Naivalu was yellow-carded for a professional foul at the breakdown, but it wouldn't cost his team any points. The Tahs opted to scrum from the penalty, and Will Skelton was brought to ground just before the line, before the visitors won a vital turnover.
Foley then missed a simple penalty attempt, with Jack Debreczeni kicking two long-range penalties either side of half-time to bring the Rebels back to within striking range.
The flyhalf slotted a much easier attempt to make it 13-9 after 58 minutes, but the Waratahs hit back with their third try when Rob Horne somehow managed to ground the ball inside the right-hand corner before being tackled into touch.
The light rain that had begun to fall early in the second half became heavier, making conditions difficult for both sides.
However, the Rebels were still able to score a superb try that began with a scrum on their 10m line. Mitch Inman was put into a gap, taking play up to the 22m, before the ball went wide to Bryce Hegarty, who scored a converted try in the corner to reduce the deficit to two with six minutes remaining.
A skew lineout throw by the Tahs gave the Rebels one last chance to attack, from a scrum after the hooter. They took the ball through 10 phases before knocking on at a ruck, much to the Tahs' relief.
Waratahs – Tries: Michael Hooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne. Penalty: Bernard Foley.
Rebels – Try: Bryce Hegarty. Conversion: Jack Debreczeni. Penalties: Debreczeni (3).
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Mitchel Chapman, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu-Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Wycliff Palu, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro.
Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Jordy Reid, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
Photo: Matt King/Getty Images