NSW Waratahs are bracing themselves for a tense battle over the final six rounds of the Super Rugby regular season after losing ground in the race for the finals.
A loss to the Bulls in South Africa on Saturday leaves last season’s Australian conference champions with just four wins from 10 matches – a victory over the Melbourne Rebels their only success in the past five starts.
Sitting fourth in the Australian conference on 21 points, the Waratahs face the prospect of knocking off the Lions in Johannesburg next Saturday night to avoid slipping further behind their local rivals.
Amid the drama surrounding Israel Folau’s code of conduct hearing with Rugby Australia and the announcement of assistant coach Simon Cron’s impending departure to Japanese rugby in 2020, the depleted Waratahs performed admirably in defeat at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
“It was pleasing that we stayed in the fight,” coach Daryl Gibson said after going down 28-21 to the Bulls in Pretoria.
“I thought we showed some nice touches with the ball in hand but disappointed that we had some opportunities that we didn’t nail.”
The Waratahs overcame a 14-point deficit in the second half to draw level but a lapse in concentration with 10 minutes to play proved costly as Bulls replacement prop Simphiwe Matanzima drove over for the match-winning try.
“When we got back to 21-all, there was a big moment there where we had a restart, I felt we didn’t exit our area well and the Bulls were able to generate a score off a lineout, which we know they are very good at,” Gibson said.
While the Waratahs looked dangerous in open play, they were no match for the hosts at the set piece.
“In terms of the game, the Bulls had dominance at scrum time on the day and I think that proved the difference between the two sides,” Gibson said.
Despite Saturday’s 29-19 defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington, the Rebels still lead the Australian conference.
The Brumbies joined the Rebels on 24 points with a 26-21 victory over the Blues in Canberra, hooker Folau Fainga’a bagging a hat-trick of tries – they have played an extra game than each of their Australian counterparts.
The Reds remain in striking distance on 22 points courtesy of an ugly 32-26 home triumph over the Sunwolves in a match that had one red card and five yellows issued – with the Toyko-based franchise down to 12 players at one stage.
Nic White’s Wallaby dream still alive:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now