Waratahs claim top rung on Super Rugby ladder
June 28, 2014
The Waratahs' Kurtley Beale shapes to pass
© Getty Images
New South Wales Waratahs have claimed top billing on the Super Rugby ladder, and pole position for home-field advantage through the play-offs, with a clinical victory against the Brumbies at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. And Western Force's subsequent loss to the Blues in Perth ensured the Waratahs would top the Australian conference and enjoy a home final in their first play-off match
The Waratahs claimed a 14-point lead midway through the first half, through converted tries by Benn Robinson and Alofa Alofa, the latter scoring a long-range intercept, and they were never seriously troubled thereafter. Jesse Mogg scored a try to get the Brumbies off the mark just before the half-hour mark, after Israel Folau had misjudged a kick, but the injury-riven visitors failed again to threaten the Tahs' line.
The Waratahs scored again midway through the second half, through Bernard Foley, who also landed his third conversion, and Alofa bagged his second to claim the four-try bonus point, touching down a simple set move featuring the Folau and Kurtley Beale in a first-phase backline attack from a lineout.
Wycliff Palu iced the performance with the fifth try, touching down in the left corner after a slick broken-field move featuring forwards and backs set up by a marvellous short ball from Beale to Michael Hooper.
The Waratahs now lead the competition by three points from the Sharks, with two matches to play, at home to the Highlanders and away to Queensland Reds, and they know victories in both will assure them of home-field advantage through the finals. But they will probably play both matches, and the finals without Dave Dennis after their captain suffered what is believed to be a season-ending knee injury in the first half.
Dave Dennis had to leave the match in the first half © Getty Images
Stand-in Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper said that Dennis' injury soured the victory celebrations.
"It's horrible," he said. "Denno's been our leader from the front this year. You never like to see that. But the boys carried on and put it out there for Denno in the second half. We said we wanted to be top two at the start of the the year, and we're on track to do that."
The Brumbies entered the pivotal derby with 11 players unavailable, including six Wallabies, unavailable, and needing to win to maintain their finals hopes. Their defeat was compounded by the loss in the opening minutes of Wallabies centre Tevita Kuridrani with a head knock, but they remain in the top six with one more match to play, against Western Force in Canberra,
Injuries weren't the Brumbies' only concern in Sydney, with their lineout a shambles.
Fourth-choice hooker Ruaidhri Murphy - usually a prop - had four throws stolen in the first half alone, and another after the break before being hooked, and their lineout wobbles and ill-discipline at the breakdown handed the Waratahs almost 70% of possession.
The Brumbies were still in the hunt trailing 17-8 in the second half when Folau turned the match. The dual international beat about half-a-dozen defenders and carried three over the line after a powerful 40-metre burst, only to be denied a try by the video referee. Foley converted the pressure into seven points when he strolled over and converted shortly after. Alofa and Palu then iced the big win.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen accepted his team had faced a "tough night", but he said "the scoreboard doesn't reflect a very close game".
Waratahs 39-8 Brumbies (Australia)
"I can honestly say ... there were some moments of championship footy in there [from the Brumbies]," Mowen said. "Not consistent enough, and the Tahs were very good tonight, you've got to tip your hat to them, but I'm really proud."
Mowen said the Brumbies were strong at the breakdown, but "the Tahs were outstanding tonight, all their big guys stood up and performed really well".
He said the Brumbies could still make the finals, especially as they were expecting "close to eight players back" to face the Force after long-term injuries.
"This competition is unbelievably close this year ... we've just to win against the Force and whatever happens, happens."
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