Waratahs grind past Western Force
March 31, 2013
Israel Folau looked good with ball in hand against the Force
© Getty Images
New South Wales Waratahs have claimed their third win of the season, and secured their first back-to-back victories in almost 12 months, beating Western Force to climb within one competition point of the top six despite gaining only 38% possession.
Israel Folau provided fans with the odd flash of excitement in a match dominated by the referee's whistle, the code-hopping recruit igniting the few attacking raids from either side, and he set up the Waratahs' lone and decisive try from Adam Ashley-Cooper. Folau made a clean break seven minutes after the interval, and the Wallabies utility's try in his 100th Super Rugby game, from the very next phase, shot the Tahs out to 23-9, a lead they refused to relinquish despite the Force narrowing the gap to four points.
"We didn't get much flow because once Force got the ball we couldn't get it back," Waratahs coach Michael Cheika said. "They were playing that one-pass game and picking and driving. We when did have the ball we spread it wide and we looked OK. We've still got a mountain to climb as far as teamwork's concerned, and being comfortable to keep the ball for longer periods of time, but we're growing every game."
Force coach Michael Foley said: "We had control of our game for long periods of time. It's just how we use the ball that's hurting us at the minute." Force captain Matt Hodgson agreed, saying: "When we play we're a good football side. It's just at the moment that we're not playing for 80 minutes. You saw in that last half when we turn it on we're one of the best sides in the comp. We just need to do that week in and week out for 80 minutes."
The derby failed to reach any great heights, with both sides perhaps more desperate to keep alive their season than to run the ball.
Two penalty goals from five-eighth Sias Ebersohn gave the Force an early 6-0 lead, but NSW half-back Brendan McKibbin replied with two penalties to have the game locked up at 6-all after 18 minutes.
Force prop Salesi Ma'afu then found himself in the sin-bin for a 19th-minute high tackle on NSW replacement hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, and the Waratahs almost immediately capitalised on their one-man advantage. Folau made a strong bust to put the Tahs deep on the attack, but the last pass went into touch as the home side had to settle for another penalty goal, and a 9-6 lead, after the Force were penalised for offside. New Zealand referee Steve Walsh continued to punish the Force at the breakdown, and McKibbin landed further penalty goals in the 29th and 33rd minutes to give the Waratahs a 15-6 advantage.
Ebersohn reduced the deficit to six points with the eighth penalty of the first half, but McKibbin was called on again just a minute into the second half to extend NSW's lead to 18-9 with his sixth penalty.
Ashley-Cooper's five-pointer seemed to have sealed the result for the Waratahs, but a converted try from Force fullback Alfi Mafi and another Ebersohn penalty set up a thrilling final quarter hour.
Ashley-Cooper said the difference for the Waratahs between winning and losing was "just a bit of belief".
"The important thing for us tonight was back-to-back wins," Ashley-Cooper said. "We needed that for our season."
Western Force dominated the game everywhere bar the scoreboard (video available only in Australia)