The Waratahs scored two second-half tries to claim a 31-26 victory against the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The visitors, without the injured Michael Hooper and suspended Israel Folau, were simply too clinical for the Rebels.
The Waratahs were made to work hard for the win, though, letting a seven-point half-time lead slip to trail by nine midway through the second half. It was only an intercept try from captain Bernard Foley that sealed a crucial win.
The Waratahs are now four points ahead of the Rebels in the Australian conference, with winnable home games against the Sunwolves and Brumbies to come.
Both sides came into the match with late changes to their starting XVs. The Waratahs had Bryce Hegarty starting for the suspended Folau while Rebels wing Marika Koroibete was a late injury withdrawal, with Sefa Naivalu coming into the team.
The hosts had all the early pressure, winning a penalty which Reece Hodge easily converted.
The Waratahs then started to see much more of the ball, but the Rebels were solid in defence, with centre Billy Meakes doing a good job of shutting down the dangerous Kurtley Beale.
The impact that the four-week international break has had clearly showed as both sides struggled to shake off the rustiness with a plethora of handling errors committed early on.
The Rebels were hit with a blow when Meakes was yellow-carded for cynical play at the ruck. An excellent tackle from Naivalu prevented the Tahs from taking immediate advantage of their extra numbers.
With Meakes off, Beale finally found some space out wide to put Taqele Naiyaravoro through for a try.
Foley then kicked his first penalty to give his team a seven-point lead, but the Rebels levelled matters when, off the back of a lineout, Meakes put Dane Haylett-Petty through a gap to score a converted try.
The hosts’ joy was short-lived as some good hands from the Waratahs freed Alex Newsome up out wide, who then passed the ball inside to Will Miller, who dived over to give the Tahs a 17-10 half-time lead.
The Rebels almost immediately levelled the scores after the break, with Michael Ruru dotting down after Haylett-Petty had taken a quick-tap penalty. Hodge slotted another three penalties to take his side into a nine-point lead.
After an intense period of pressure from the Rebels, the Waratahs got themselves back into the game when Beale carried them into the Rebels 22 with an intercept. Eventually, flank Ned Hanigan reached over to score.
Minutes later, some good defence from the Waratahs saw Foley intercept a wayward pass to race away and score the winning try.
The Waratahs were then made to see off a number of attempts on their line in the last five minutes of the match, with the Rebels giving possession away to allow the visitors to boot the ball into the stands and come away with the win.
Rebels – Try: Dane Haylett-Petty, Michael Ruru. Conversions: Reece Hodge (2). Penalties: Hodge (4).
Waratahs – Tries: Taqele Naiyaravoro, Will Miller, Ned Hanigan, Bernard Foley. Conversions: Foley (4). Penalty: Foley.
Rebels – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English (c), 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Jack Debreczeni, 23 Semisi Tupou.
Waratahs – 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley (c), 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Will Miller, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Irae Simone, 23 Alex Newsome.
Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images