Waratahs complete great escape at AAMI Park
That’s how long the Waratahs led at AAMI Park, but as David Horwitz crashed over in the 80th minute, it was long enough to keep their season alive with a 32-25 win over the Rebels.
It was a frenetic match, played at the intensity fans have been praying to see from Australian teams since the start of the season, but for a variety of reasons they have been denied.
Though there was ferocity throughout as the Rebels opening up the biggest first-half margin in their history, before a scoreless second half gave way to four unanswered Waratahs tries.
Rebels captain Nic Stirzaker cut a forlorn figure after the match, ruing his side’s chance at a first 2017 win.
His NSW counterpart, Michael Hooper, was left simply to ask the question ‘Where has that been?’ for the past four weeks, in a 1-3 start to the year.
Reece Hodge had the first points in the fourth minute, taking a penalty from an opening passage of dominance and while the Waratahs looked dangerous as the half ticked on, ultimately that ascendancy gave them just an equaliser.
The intensity cranked up as the minutes ticked over and it was Hodge who finally made the most of a chance, slipping past Will Skelton to give his side a seven-point lead, before adding another three-pointer as well.
Waratahs fllyhalf Bernard Foley hit back with a penalty but the Rebels took another half-chance for a try, with Amanaki Mafi putting Jack Debreczeni through a gap, allowing centre Tom English to finish off a spectacular score.
Hodge had a first-half double showing up the Waratahs defence for the second time in the opening stanza as the Rebels opened up the biggest gap of the game at half-time.
It was the breakdown where the Rebels took the edge for most of the game, with Colby Faingaa and Jordy Reid clinching some crucial turnovers and Amanaki Mafi imposing his size.
Waratahs blindside Ned Hanigan had the first second-half try, just surviving a Marika Koroibete hit on the line to ground the ball and reducing the margin to 14.
That opened the floodgates for the Waratahs, with an air of the preceding U20s game complete with a NSW comeback, but it seemed things were going to play out differently for their senior counterparts.
The Rebels’ lineout suffered after the early exit of James Hanson, with bookending injuries to Culum Retallick and Dominic Day compounding that blow, as their bench began to deplete.
Reece Robinson added the Waratahs’ fourth in the 58th minute, as NSW threatened to inflict another horror final quarter on the Rebels, who had conceded more tries than any other Super Rugby side after the 60-minute mark before this week.
They managed to hold out their opponents until Michael Wells crashed over 77th minute, just one minute after a pivotal Faingaa yellow card, drawing level with a Foley conversion.
As the seconds ticked down, a Waratahs score looked almost inevitable, ultimately coming through Horwitz in his first starting stint at 12 this season.
The concerns for the Rebels may just be beginning, with powerful winger Sefa Naivalu holding his wrist in a rudimentary sling after the game.
Tries: Hodge 2, English,
Cons: Hodge 2
Pens: Hodge 2
Tries: Hanigan, Robinson, Wells, Horwitz
Cons: Foley 3
Pens: Foley 2
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