Waratahs edge Rebels in thriller to stay alive
SUPER RUGBY AU REPORT: The Waratahs stayed alive in the play-off race with a thrilling 38-32 win over the Melbourne Rebels in Sydney on Saturday.
However, the losing bonus point gained by the Rebels – in a five-tries-to-four result – means that a win, by five points or more, for the Rebels over the Western Force next week will see them join the Brumbies and Reds in the play-offs.
The Brumbies advanced directly to the Final with their 31-14 win over the Force on Friday. The Reds, who had a bye this week, and meet the Brumbies in next week’s final round of league fixtures.
The Waratahs, who have completed their league fixtures, must hope that the Force can beat the Rebels in order for the Tahs to sneak into the play-offs.
* Did you miss any of the action? To recap all the drama, CLICK HERE!
Melbourne finished the moral victors after Matt Toomua’s 77th-minute penalty goal earned the Rebels a priceless bonus point that may well prove decisive in the race to the finals.
The Waratahs skipped four competition points clear of the Rebels on the table but, with a bye in next week’s final round, now face an anxious wait to see if they qualify for the playoffs.
And the Waratahs only have themselves to blame for being in such a predicament.
Ill-discipline has cost Rob Penney’s men all season but their coach killer on Saturday was young flyhalf Will Harrison not finding touch after a penalty with his side in control, leading 31-17 midway through the second half.
The Rebels wasted no time punishing the Waratahs for the cardinal sin, spreading the ball wide to Marika Koroibete for the 2019 John Eales Medallist to score in the left corner.
Koroibete’s try cruelled NSW’s hopes of banking a decisive bonus point that would have clinched a finals spot.
Not for the first time in 2020, the Tahs will rue blowing a big lead – and having lock Ned Hanigan yellow-carded in the shadows of half-time didn’t help either.
Leading 14-3 at the time, after early tries to Jake Gordon and Jack Dempsey, the Tahs conceded tries either side of halftime while a man down to invite the Rebels back into the contest.
The Waratahs regained the ascendancy with further five-pointers to Harry Johnson-Holmes and Joey Walton, only for Harrison’s blunder to again turn the tide.
But there was even another twist after Wallabies captain Michael Hooper’s charge-down effort to set up a 76th-minute try for Harrison appeared to have denied the Rebels their all-important bonus point.
But Toomua, who also opened the scoring with a penalty, had the final say with another clean strike that could well have ended the Waratahs’ season.
If it has, Hooper – the last survivor from NSW’s 2014 title-winning team – has played his last game for the Waratahs until 2022 after revealing plans this week to head to Japan next year for a six-month sabbatical.
“We’re still in the hunt. It was clear we were going to go for a bonus point tonight, which would have been nice,” said Waratahs captain Rob Simmons.
“But it was important to get that win. It keeps us in the fight. We’ll see what happens next week.”
For the Rebels
Tries: To’omua, Naisarani 2, Koroibete
Cons: To’omua 3
Pens: To’omua 2
For the Waratahs
Tries: Gordon, Dempsey, Johnson-Holmes, Walton, Harrison
Cons: Harrison 5
Yellow cards: Ned Hanigan (Waratahs, 36 – repeated infringements, collapsing a maul), Matt Philip (Melbourne Rebels, 65 – foul play, playing a jumper in the air)
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Matt Toomua (captain), 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Andrew Deegan, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Trevor Hosea, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Cameron Orr.
Replacements: 16 Efitusi Ma’afu, 17 Cabous Eloff, 18 Pone Fa’amaluli, 19 Michael Stolberg, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Billy Meakes. 23 Tom Pincus.
Waratahs: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 James Ramm, 13 Joey Walton, 12 Tepai Moeroa, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons (captain), 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Tom Horton, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Angus Bell, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Will Harris, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Ben Donaldson, 23 Nick Malouf.
Referee: Graham Cooper
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner, Amy Perrett
TMO: James Leckie