'Tahs hold on in eight-try thriller

20 Feb 2015
'Tahs hold on in eight-try thriller

The Waratahs bounced back from last week's loss to the Force with a hard-fought 38-28 victory over the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park on Friday.

Five much-needed points were sealed by the Super Rugby champions as they go into their bye week much happier than a week ago.

It was hardly classic Waratahs in the first-half but in truth they should have been in a comfortable position going into the break after a try from Stephen Hoiles was backed up by the boots of Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale. However, sloppy errors once again cost them dear.

The Rebels had taken the lead in the eleventh minute when number eight Scott Higginbotham slipped past Will Skelton en route the whitewash. This came after Foley had knocked over a fourth minute penalty. Mike Harris' conversion made it 3-7 to the home side who were making their presence felt.

Big tackles were flying in from centre Mitch Inman - the one on Tatafu Polota-Nau in particular standing out - as the Rebels took the game to the holders.

However, Michael Cheika's side found their rhythm around the 20 minute mark and when centre Beale backed himself with a chip under a penalty advantage, his re-gather and offload sent Hoiles over on a clean run to the try-line. Foley's simple two points pushed the 'Tahs 10-7 ahead.

Beale and Foley built that lead with a penalty apiece in the 26th and 32nd minute and it looked like the 'Tahs would go in 16-7 to the good.

Cheika though would be reeling in the dressing rooms as with half-time in sight, his side's scrum five metres from their own line saw Nick Phipps fail to gather the ball at the base and Rebels second-row Lopeti Timani pounced on the loose ball before grounding to make it 16-14.

The Wallaby and Waratahs coach clearly gave the right message at half-time and his players took it on board, coming out sprightly after the turnaround when Adam Ashley-Cooper handed an inside ball to big wing Taqele Naiyaravaro, who powered over to extend the lead to nine points.

It was short-lived however as the Rebels fought their way back into the game with strong carries against a struggling 'Tahs side. Eventually scrum-half Luke Burgess found a way through close to the uprights as suddenly the Melbourne faithful saw their side back within two points.

The Waratahs are not champions by accident though and patient play in the Rebels 22 first led to Rob Horne going close before Naiyaravaro finished off on the opposite touchline as the cushion was reestablished. He would turn from hero to villain soon after though as he deliberately hit the ball dead in-goal in rugby league style, which ultimately cost him ten minutes in the sin-bin and sustained pressure from the home side followed.

It almost cost the 'Tahs the game too as the Rebels crossed thanks to Harris' lovely looped pass to replacement Sefanaia Naivalu for the try, which Harris converted. However, the full-back was soon withdrawn for a concussion assessment and wasn't on the field when his side had a long-range penalty that Jack Debreczeni took in his place. He missed his attempt as the scores remained locked up at 28 apiece.

The 'Tahs though showed their class with fourteen men as the quality of Foley saw him slice through a gap before finding Beale on his shoulder for the bonus-point try. The fly-half's successful conversion crucially put them seven points to the good before his late penalty sealed a much-needed win.