Israel Folau crashed over the try line three minutes from time to help the New South Wales Waratahs to a 21-15 victory over South Africa’s Stormers in a bruising Super Rugby match at the Sydney Football Stadium yesterday.
The Waratahs ran in 11 tries in a record win over the Southern Kings last week, but against the Stormers’ miserly defense had to be satisfied with scores from winger Cam Crawford in the first half and fullback Folau’s late effort.
Five kicks from five attempts by Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen meant the Waratahs trailed 15-11 until Folau managed to breach the line, further pressing his claims for a place in the Wallabies squad for the British and Irish Lions tour.
Replacement flyhalf Berrick Barnes, playing only his second match of an injury-ravaged season, provided the pass that allowed Folau to score, then converted the try and kicked a penalty from halfway as the clock ran out.
“I’m more pleased than last week, to be honest,” said Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis, whose side still have a chance of making the playoffs and host Australian front-runners the ACT Brumbies next week. “We just want to keep this winning feeling going next week, hopefully.”
Folau’s most telling contribution in the first half owed as much to his rugby league background as his newly learned union skills, leaping up to knock back a Bernard Foley crosskick for Crawford to touch down in the 24th minute.
Both defenses held firm at the gainline and it was not until the stroke of halftime that Brendan McKibbin was able to extend the lead to 8-3, when the Stormers were penalized for the sixth time.
Early in the second half it was the home side’s turn to attract the ire of referee Chris Pollock, who will officiate one of the Lions Tests, and Pietersen converted two penalties in four minutes to put the visitors in front.
McKibbin’s second penalty put the Waratahs back ahead after 50 minutes, but Pietersen made no mistake with two further efforts to put the Stormers 15-11 ahead with 15 minutes to play.
It looked for most of that time that the Stormers would hold on, but the Waratahs held their nerve and were rewarded with Folau’s try after a long siege of the visitors’ line.
Springbok No. 8 Duane Vermeulen left the field 10 minutes from time, after sustaining what looked like a serious knee injury, and Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers said that had disrupted their defensive effort.
“We fought back nicely to get the lead, but ... then we gave up the try and we couldn’t hang onto the ball,” he said.
BLUES 36, REBELS 32
Frank Halai scored a hat-trick as the Auckland Blues blitzed the Melbourne Rebels with five first-half tries, but a poor second half meant they were forced to hang on for a 36-32 victory at Eden Park yesterday.
James O’Connor, one of the favorites to take the playmaker role for Australia against the British and Irish Lions next month, was forced off the field midway through the first half with what appeared to be a chest injury.
The 22-year-old Rebels flyhalf was only the most obvious victim of the power and pace of the Blues backline in the first half, with Halai and centers Francis Saili and Rene Ranger in intimidating form.
Saili grabbed a brace before halftime, but the Blues were held scoreless in the second half until nine minutes from time as the Rebels barged their way back into the match with 15 unanswered points.
“That was ugly,” said Blues skipper Ali Williams, whose team took five points from the encounter to stay very much in the playoff race. “First 20 minutes we played like we should play. Then individuals, probably led by me, played [rubbish]. As a team, probably need to take a good look at ourselves.”
The Rebels were already without Kurtley Beale after the Wallabies back was stood down for disciplinary reasons in midweek and will be hoping the injury to O’Connor is not serious.
Rebels No. 8 Scott Higginbotham did his chances of facing the Lions no harm at all with another inspirational performance as captain, running in a brilliant solo try in the first half.
It was a try from Lachie Mitchell along with a second of the match for his fellow center Mitch Inman and a penalty from fullback Jason Woodward, however, that pulled the Rebels to within four points of the Blues with 14 minutes to go.
Ranger went over for a converted try with a clever move from the side of the ruck after 71 minutes to make the score 36-25.
There was still time for Woodward to crash over to give the Rebels a second bonus point, but the chance of a third win of the season was gone.
HURRICANES 39, CHEETAHS 34
The Hurricanes made it third-time lucky against South African sides when they beat the Cheetahs 39-34 on Friday.
Successive defeats by the Stormers and Bulls effectively ended the New Zealand team’s chances of reaching the finals stage, but they were much improved against the Cheetahs, outscoring them four tries to three.