Former Australia captain Rocky Elsom made his long-awaited return to the New South Wales Waratahs side in a 30-21 home win over the Melbourne Rebels in Sydney yesterday.
Elsom came off the bench in the 65th minute to make his first appearance for the Waratahs in his second spell after missing the start of the season with a hamstring injury.
However, the powerful flanker’s appearance came as the Waratahs fell into defensive mode to protect a lead, a common fault this year, as they squandered a 30-7 advantage to make it a nervous last few minutes as the Rebels sniffed an unlikely win. The home side clung on to record their fourth win from eight games this year and move top of Super Rugby’s Australian Conference.
“We started very well and strung a few good phases together, but I think in that second half we let it get away from us, too many penalties again,” Waratahs captain Benn Robinson said.
The Waratahs were quick out of the blocks and opened the scoring with a try after 26 seconds. Having recovered their kickoff, they progressed forward and a neat handling move involving several backs and forwards set fullback Bernard Foley clear to cross the line.
Scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin converted and added another three penalties in the first half as the Waratahs bossed the game against a Rebels side who were guilty of numerous handling errors.
The Rebels did show some positive signs in the first period and they came up with a 23rd-minute try when hooker Ged Robinson completed the easy job of touching down after his forwards had caught a lineout and driven over the line.
Wallaby utility back James O’Connor kicked the tricky conversion from the touchline as the Rebels went in 16-7 down at halftime.
The Rebels were again slow to start the second period and Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau scored a clever try in the corner in the 47th minute after exchanging close-range passes with No. 8 Wycliff Palu off a lineout for the home side.
Another try came 10 minutes later after a period of heavy Waratahs pressure with center Rob Horne crashing over after 13 phases. Horne was sent to the sin bin shortly after for a clumsy spear tackle.
The Rebels exploited the space created by Horne’s absence to score their second try through replacement Tim Davidson, which fullback Kurtley Beale converted after taking over the kicking when O’Connor was forced from the field with injury.
Beale then sucked in two defenders before feeding a pass to winger Lachlan Mitchell to cross for the Rebels’ third try with six minutes left, but that was as close as the visitors got as they slumped to their sixth loss in eight games this year.
“It was a very slow start from us, but we seemed to pick it up towards the end of the first and then went to sleep at the start of the second,” Rebels captain Gareth Delve bemoaned.