Israel Folau stars as Tahs 'open door'
May 11, 2013
Israel Folau showed his aerial skills once more to set up the first try
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Israel Folau kept alive New South Wales Waratahs' Super Rugby finals hopes with a desperate last-gasp try against the Stormers on Saturday night, scoring three minutes from full-time in the decisive move of a tense match at Allianz Stadium.
Folau has bagged seven tries in 11 games since switching codes, and he continues to make an irresistible claim for a Wallabies debut against the British & Irish Lions next month. Returning Wallabies playmaker Berrick Barnes was another hero for the Waratahs after making his comeback from wrist surgery with 17 minutes remaining. Barnes delivered a sloppy forward pass with his first touch after replacing five-eighth Bernard Foley, but he atoned by firing the match-winning pass for Folau's five-pointer and capped his return with a long-range penalty goal after the siren.
The Waratahs ran in 11 tries against Southern Kings in Super Rugby round 12, but they cracked the Stormers' stonewall defence only once in 77 minutes before Folau's late strike - and that from a cross-field kick over the top from Foley. The South Africans had done their homework on Folau, and warily double-marked the competition's leading metres maker at scrum time. But the rugby league international was still the Waratahs' most dangerous attacking threat, and inevitably he burnt the Stormers. "Any time you give him the ball and a bit of space, he's pretty handy; he's going real well for us," Waratahs captain Dave Dennis said of Folau.
Cam Crawford's fifth try in as many starts for the Waratahs helped the home team to an 8-3 half-time lead. The rookie winger was on the spot after Folau knocked back Foley's cross-field kick in the 24th minute. Half-back Brendan McKibbin missed the conversion attempt but slotted a penalty goal on the stroke of half-time to give the Waratahs their five-point buffer at the break.
Joe Pietersen's radar boot nudged the Stormers ahead after the interval, but the Waratahs kept their cool to claim a plucky win that leaves them just four points adrift of the top six.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika wasn't getting overexcited after the game, saying: "We're six and five; we're starting to get more consistency around our attitude and application ... and we've got a really good block of games now heading into the Lions: three away, one at home against the leaders of the comp; it's going to be a really good test of our attitude." But he praised the endeavour of his team, and the way his players stuck to their task in defeating the Stormers. "We couldn't unlock a door tonight, the way we were attacking, but we just hung in there and just kept going at them because they just wanted to win for the crowd."
Folau said "it's a massive win to go into next week's game" against the Brumbies, while Waratahs captain Dave Dennis said the victory "gives me more pleasure than last week ... always tough coming back, and we were a bit lethargic in the first half ... but last 15 we really upped the ante and to break the defence of the Stormers at the end is a big achievement."
Stormers captain Jean de Villiers felt injuries to Rynhard Elstadt and Duane Vermeulen in the final 10 minutes were pivoyal as the visitors proved unable to repel the Waratahs. "We lost our rhythm on defence," he said. "We let in that try and from then on we couldn't hang on to the ball again."
The Waratahs showed great fight against the Stormers (video available only in Australia)
"He's getting better and better," de Villiers said of Folau. "Quality players always seemed to be involved whenever they're under the pump and whenever a big play is needed and he was there to do that tonight. So credit must go to him and hopefully we can keep it in union."
"This team is playing for something bigger than just the team or just rugby games," he said. "They're much more committed to the cause and to the team. I won't say it's a better team than in the past. I won't say they've got much better players, but the willingness to do well and to play for each other and to get results is there."
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