In a big show of courage, an inexperienced HSBC Waratahs squad has out-enthused a seasoned Force outfit to record a 28-13 away win in Perth.
In the absence of 10 Wallabies and seven injured players, first-time NSW captain Tom Carter led a new-look side to an invincible 22-8 half time lead, before holding on to maintain NSW’s unbeaten record in Perth.
As well as blooding six uncapped players, the win gives NSW fans plenty to get excited about, with the HSBC Waratahs’ historic clash against the British & Irish Lions just six days away.
Paying tribute to the character of his young squad, captain Tom Carter said afterwards, “That typifies the effort we’ve put in all year.
“We lacked a little bit in our combinations but we showed tremendous courage and that’s one of the best wins I’ve ever had.
“Some games we haven’t got the result, but we’ve trained really hard all year and that’s one for the true believers. Cheik has really brought that spirit back and I think that’s what we showed here today.”
Dismissing talk of an elusive bonus point, Carter said, “You come over here to win.
“The Force are a tremendous side here, they’ve beaten the Crusaders here and drawn with the Reds. That’s a really good effort, results like that come because you work hard. I feel really honoured to be out here today and to get the victory.”
Although inexperienced, the HSBC Waratahs showed no sign of nerves, turning in a strong opening 10 minutes to cross for two early tries. The first came after just seven minutes when debutant lock Ollie Atkins powered over to convert 15 phases of pressure into some early points, before Cam Crawford added another within a minute of the restart, after a slick backline move created an overlap for the winger to cross in the corner. Brendan McKibbin’s conversions helped NSW to a 14-3 lead.
A McKibbin penalty extended the gap to 14 on 19 minutes, before the Force scored a try of their own when captain Pek Cowan picked up from the base of a ruck and dived over from a metre out.
But determined to maintain their advantage, the visitors hit straight back and within minutes, a TMO decision ratified outside centre Tom Kingston’s try-scoring effort and the lead was restored to 14 points with 25 minutes on the clock.
A sustained period of Force pressure followed but a heroic defensive effort from the NSW pack kept the home side from crossing the whitewash. Despite barely touching the ball in the closing 10 minutes, the HSBC Waratahs refused to give in to the repeated waves of Force attack, saving four close-range attempts from lineout driven mauls and resolutely sending the Force back into the Sheds at half-time, empty-handed.
As they returned to the field, both sides remained determined to make the play, but the slippery conditions hindered their efforts and neither side was able to build any pressure.
As the third quarter approached, a Force attacking scrum resulted in a yellow card for NSW No. 8 Jed Holloway, as the young backrower was penalised for playing the ball in the scrumhalf’s hands at the base of a ruck. Despite being a man down, the visitors still managed to play themselves out of danger. Escaping their 22, they mounted an attack of their own but when Betham was forced into touch, a quick Force lineout allowed flyhalf Sion Ebersohn to make a half-break, before sending centre Kyle Godwin in for a try from 50m.
With the difference reduced to nine points, the Force’s costly conversion miss was further punished when McKibbin kicked his second penalty to give his side a two-score advantage. Still searching for their fourth bonus-point try, NSW welcomed fresh legs in the form of debutants Liam Winton and Adam Coleman, and replacement scrumhalf Matt Lucas. Another decent break from the evasive Betham brought a penalty which stand-in kicker Bernard Foley duly slotted. With just five minutes remaining, Head Coach Michael Cheika emptied his bench, allowing Richard Aho and Terrence Hepetema to earn their debuts, and throwing Ben Volavola into the mix to chase a try but also to and gain valuable Super Rugby experience ahead of next weekend’s massive clash with the British & Irish Lions.
In one final surge, the HSBC Waratahs mounted a 15-phase raid that kept them on the attack well after the final whistle. A great bit of pace and dexterity looked to have brought the welcome fourth try but after a long deliberation, the TMO ruled that Betham had lost control of the ball just before grounding it and being rolled into touch. But the decision did little to take the shine off an emphatic NSW victory.