Super Rugby title race wide open
REACTION: Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has declared the Super Rugby title race wide open after Melbourne Rebels squandered a golden opportunity to take command of the Australian conference.
The Waratahs’ 23-20 comeback win over the Rebels and stirring victories in South Africa for the Brumbies and Queensland Reds have left all four teams within six points of the conference lead.
With a game in hand, the Waratahs are back in the box seat with the chance to go top with a home win over the Sharks next week, when the front-running Rebels have a much-needed bye to regroup after successive losses.
With the unpredictable South African conference even more congested, the prize for winning the Australian group is enticing.
The top Aussie team is almost certain to finish second overall, most likely behind the runaway Crusaders, and earn a saloon passage through to this year’s final.
Gibson is well aware of the opportunity and said the trick for the hot-and-cold Waratahs was backing up big wins, like their round-six defeat of the Crusaders, and this one over the Rebels.
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“That’s our challenge: week to week being consistent,” he said.
“We’re not the only side struggling week to week. The consistency with this competition is all over the place.
“I’d hate to be doing my picks because you wouldn’t know what you’re picking.
“But it just shows that the competition’s a different one this year. Anyone can beat anyone, and we’re no different.
“And if we can get that right, then we’ll be at the right end of the competition when we need to be.”
While, Waratahs game breaker Bernard Foley believes the his side’s steely statement win over the Melbourne Rebels proves they can seize the Super Rugby crown without Israel Folau.
Foley’s 16 unanswered points allowed the Waratahs to overcome a 13-point half-time deficit and breathe life into their campaign with a season-saving 23-20 triumph over the Australian conference leaders.
With Folau stood down by NSW Rugby and fighting to save his career after another round of provocative homophobic social media posts, Foley said the Waratahs’ gritty victory in the face of such adversity showed no player was bigger than any team.
Not even Folau, the three-times Wallabies player of the year and Super Rugby’s all-time leading try-scorer.
“He’s a special player. No doubt about it he’s a freak and he’s been a big part of this team,” Foley said.
“So you lose any player like that, there’s a hole.
“But what the side did this week, they filled it pretty quickly in terms of how we just went about our business.
“We didn’t try to replicate or find another Israel.
“Everyone did their role. To find a way to win after that start and the week we had, and to enjoy that scrap, makes us a tough team to beat.”
Proud coach Daryl Gibson also hailed the side’s spirit and resilience and said the Waratahs, blessed with a world-class backline even without Folau, were still trying to find their identity.
But Foley said he was happy to win ugly and challenged teammates to keep delivering, however they can.
“To have our backs to the wall and for the team to galvanise and come together and respond like that is something special and guys can sit back and be content with that performance,” he said.
“Hopefully that’s a real performance that can be a catalyst to send us into the second half of the season.
“It wasn’t as pretty as we want. We want to be scoring flashy sides but a quality side is the stuff you don’t see – the off-the-ball hard work, the tough stuff.
“That’s the stuff you play for. That’s the stuff you can’t replicate outside a team environment.
“And that’s the stuff we’ve got to chase. We’ve got to get addicted to that feeling.”