The Chiefs have slumped to an embarrassing 45-25 loss to the NSW Waratahs, in a performance that suggests old demons are re-emerging into the 2016 Super Rugby season as a dominant Waratahs side showed their credentials and continued a poor away record for the Chiefs in Sydney.
In a match where having a clear and forthright hold on the New Zealand conference standings was on the line, Dave Rennie would have been disappointed with yet another poor second half performance, in which his side came out of the halftime break looking flat and broken down.
Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane said that he knew the Waratahs would be desperate against his side, but expressed how disappointed he was by the second half performance, where ball security and defense was a major issue.
“They outclassed us in all areas and it was pretty disappointing”, Cane said post-game.
The Waratahs ran in six tries in total, including doubles for Israel Folau and Michael Hooper, and a total of 28-points in the second half alone. Enough to now maintain a strong lead in the Australian conference of Super Rugby. Meanwhile, the Chiefs could slump to as low as third on the New Zealand conference, before the end of round 14.
Waratahs vs Chiefs: As It Happened
Awarded a penalty from the kick off, Bernard Foley put the Waratahs out to an early 3-0 lead after Israel Folau fell awkwardly trying to retrieve the ball. The Chiefs quickly responded by positioning themselves in the Waratahs red zone and going through several phases of attack, but a piece of brilliance on defense by Folau saw the Waratahs score their first try of the night. Brad Weber, running a set play, floated his pass to the midfield but Folau snapped the ball from the air and had a clear run to the try line. Foley converted to put the Waratahs up by 10-points despite the Chiefs having over 70% of possession early on.
A handling error by Waratahs scrum-half Nick Phipps inside his own goal line gifted the Chiefs five-points, and handed Seta Tamanivalu his seventh try in Super Rugby. Phipps was unable to secure a rolling ball, allowing Tamanivalu to pick up the scraps. Aaron Cruden couldn’t convert from out wide, but the Chiefs had eaten into the Waratahs lead to make the score 10-5. The Waratahs were finding gaps out wide, but two kicks out on the full saw the Chiefs escape danger of conceding more points and it eventually cost the Waratahs their lead. Going forward on attack, Damian McKenzie drew in a stretched Waratahs defense to allow Cruden an easy run to the try line, floating a brilliant pass out to his co-captain to put the Chiefs on level terms.
Sam Cane was penalised for foul play off the ball, but Foley couldn’t regain his sides lead, missing his kick to the right from about 30-metres out. Niggle began to breakout between the two sides with scuffles occurring off the ball. Wycliff Palu was sent to the sin bin for ten-minutes after the touch judge reported an illegal neck roll on Tamanivalu at the breakdown. Penalised again, McKenzie made the Waratahs pay by kicking three-points into a stiff breeze, putting his side into the lead 13-10 with a big territorial advantage in the first half of rugby.
A rare trip into Chiefs territory clearly inspired the Waratahs to a crucial try right on the halftime whistle, thanks large in part to a blockbusting break up the middle of the field by Will Skelton. With support on either side, Skelton handed the ball of to his captain Michael Hooper, and the flanker was able to race under the posts to score. The Waratahs made their mark when it counted, leaving the Chiefs defense furious with themselves in back play. Foley converted, and the Tahs went into the halftime team talk much happier with a 17-13 lead.
The opening ten-minutes of the second half was a case of ‘trial and error’ for the Chiefs. Anton Lienert-Brown kicked into gear following a strong performance last week, stepping to his right and past the Waratahs, to set Weber off downfield but scrappy execution saw the counter-attack come to nothing. McKenzie put the Chiefs into the Waratahs bluezone with a beautiful long-range punt into the corner, but a good exit play from Foley got his side off the hook briefly.
Third time lucky with attacking possession and with quick hands, Nathan Harris was free on the left, and the returning hooker scored his second try in successive weeks to restore the Chiefs lead 18-17.
Folau then inspired the Waratahs to bounce immediately back into the lead, stepping off his right foot and breaking through the guts of the Chiefs midfield, after being given a small amount of space. Recycling possession quickly, a long floating pass found Andrew Kellaway, and the outside back was able to score his first try in Super Rugby. Leading 24-18, the Waratahs began to play some of the best rugby of their season, and suddenly Hooper was able to smash through the line after a period of possession that saw the Waratahs go nearly 75-metres downfield.
Foley converted (and would kick at 100% to maximize all seven-pointers) and the Waratahs were out to a commanding 31-18 lead. Incidently, that try was Michael Hooper’s first ‘brace’ in a long and storied Super Rugby career with the Waratahs.
A questionable try to Folau soon handed the Waratahs a bonus point, and a near-devastating hold on the match [espite replays showing that the pass from Phipps had travelled forward]. Foley converted, and the Waratahs were away and laughing with a 38-18 lead, capping off a dominant performance in the second half.
Toni Pulu was the recipient of a well-weighted cross-field kick by Cruden, giving the Chiefs an important push to put their foot ‘back into the door’. McKenzie converted from the sideline, showing that the men from the Waikato can find the try line with well executed set play, something that had been lacking since the break. It left an interesting finish to the game, with the Waratahs leading 38-25.
With time slipping away, Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie completely cleared the bench, injecting inexperienced but proven power onto the park for the final ten-minutes. Trailing by 13-points, the visitors needed to find two converted tries to regain the lead–a very tough ask.
Andrew Horrell nearly found himself with an intercept and what would have been a clear run to the line, only to fumble the ball forward. That handed a scrum to the dominant Waratahs that would eat up crucial time. Jack Dempsy putting the nail in the coffin for the home side, punishing a Chiefs defense that had clearly given up, scoring the Waratahs sixth try with a demolishing break to the try line.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) May 27, 2016
Chiefs Silenced By Dominant Waratahs
In the end, a dominant performance from the Waratahs, running out 45-25 winners in Sydney.
(Tries: Israel Folou 2, Michael Hooper 2, Andrew Kellaway, Jack Dempsy, Penalties: Bernard Foley 1. Conversions: Foley 6)
(Tries: Seta Tamanivalu, Aaron Cruden, Nathan Harris, Toni Pulu. Penalties: Damian McKenzie 1. Conversions: McKenzie 1)
“Main photo credit”