Leading by a point at half-time with all the confidence in the world, the Waratahs managed to fall flat once again on Friday evening to record a 37-point defeat – their worst ever to the Chiefs in Super Rugby.
Another heavy loss to a New Zealand side is a major concern and raises questions as to whether this Waratahs side is even going to come close to playing finals after succumbing 51-14 in Wollongong in their fourth loss from five starts this season.
Anton Lienert-Brown scores for the Chiefs and Karmichael Hunt can’t look.Credit:Getty
Being able to claw their way back from 13-0 down to lead 14-13 at the break would have been a major psychological boost when other Kiwi teams in recent years have been relentless when in front.
Then came the coach killer: two tries in as many minutes that would have made Rob Penney’s blood boil.
First there was possibly the easiest try of the season as halfback Brad Weber darted from the base of a ruck for a five-pointer in between Ryan McCauley and Harry Johnson-Holmes. Then Chiefs fullback Shaun Stevenson threw a ridiculous behind-the-back pass to Weber on a beautiful line that Waratahs winger James Ramm could do very little about.
It was the beginning of the end as the Chiefs, coached by Test rugby’s most experienced coach, Warren Gatland, ran riot in the second half to score six tries and 38 unanswered points in an alarming thumping to bring the Waratahs back to earth after last week’s victory against the Lions.
The Waratahs had won eight of their last nine home games against Chiefs since 1999 before putting in a performance that a strong crowd in the stands and on the hill at WIN Stadium had to sit through.
Their worst defeat previously to the Chiefs was a 39-17 loss in 1996.
NSW are facing the real possibility of being one from six to begin the season if they cannot cause an upset in Canberra next Sunday. After that they have the Bulls in Tamworth, then the Sunwolves at the SCG before a two-week tour to South Africa.
It is close to panic stations with Australian rival teams showing more promise than in years gone by.
NSW could be mown down before firing a proper shot in the competition. They have now lost five consecutive matches to New Zealand teams when two of the other three Australian sides have chalked up a win against Kiwi rivals this year.
A lack of urgency and discipline at the breakdown cost the Waratahs, as did turnovers at critical moments in Chiefs territory. The visitors were outstanding in counter-attack.
However, a new Waratahs halves pairing of Mitch Short and Will Harrison, who both play their club footy for Randwick, were effective and cannot be blamed for the loss.
Harrison continued his steady rise and, with five Super Rugby games to his name now, did not look out of place. His footwork and acceleration out of his side’s in-goal was a highlight when the pressure was on, but it was an evening to forget.
NSW were on the wrong end of a 5-1 penalty count in the opening quarter of an hour and trailed 6-0.
Karmichael Hunt tried to take the game into his own hands. He runs the ball like a forward with no regard for personal safety yet has the playmaking skills – he regularly popped up at first receiver – to pose a double threat.
There are multiple contenders to fill spots in the Wallabies back line positions and Hunt is surely right in the mix.
He threw a lovely final pass to Beale for a try and then six minutes later unintentionally coughed up a ball that Jack Dempsey snaffled out of the air and scored with to swing momentum leading into half-time.
That was as good as it got for NSW.
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