The New South Wales Waratahs ground out an ugly 20-15 win over the Western Force to edge into the Super Rugby playoff frame in Sydney yesterday.
The Waratahs scored the only two tries of an uninspiring slog to cancel out James O’Connor’s five penalty goals for the Force.
Both teams resorted to kicks for territorial gain and relied on their forwards to create a scoring platform with a total of 139 rucks and mauls — 96 of them won by the Waratahs.
The Waratahs lie nine points behind leaders the Queensland Reds in the Australian Conference, but importantly they nudged ahead of New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders into the top six teams in the overall southern hemisphere provincial championship standings.
The home side had an element of luck with their first try coming off a penalty goal attempt which cannoned off an upright into the grateful arms of former Force center Ryan Cross.
The Waratahs got their second try when third-choice hooker John Ulugia burrowed beneath a maul to score with 10 minutes left to put his side in front.
Wallaby back Kurtley Beale, who was the most enterprising player on the field, chipped in with two conversions and two penalties.
At one stage in a dour forwards-orientated contest, the Waratahs slogged though 25 phases, hammering away at the Force try-line.
It was another narrow defeat for the Force, who have little chance of making the playoffs next month.
“Everyone in these Australian derbies are well paired against each other, the boys have played with and against each other for many years,” Force skipper Nathan Sharpe said. “Full credit to the Waratahs, they ground it out well tonight, but we just didn’t take our chances when we had them and we lacked in continuity.”
There was concern for Force hooker Nathan Charles who was stretchered off midway through the second half with his neck in a brace after he was knocked out making a tackle.