SYDNEY, Australia, Jul 11 – Western Force were handed a rude awakening to the top-flight Saturday with NSW Waratahs scoring 23 unanswered points to overwhelm them in their first game of Super Rugby in nearly three years.
The Perth club were 14-0 ahead and more than holding their own before a Michael Hooper-inspired ‘Tahs stepped up a gear in the second half to win 23-14 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Angus Bell and Tom Staniforth bagged tries and Will Harrison kicked five goals to earn the home team their first win in Super Rugby AU after a six-point loss to the Queensland Reds in the opening round last week.
It was a welcome boost for Rob Simmons’ side, who had only won one of their previous eight.
And it was payback for the last time the two teams met, when they were hammered 40-11 in what was Force’s final Super Rugby outing before being controversially axed by governing body SANZAAR at the end of the 2017 season.
“It sure is (a good feeling), a lot of hard work went into that one and it’s good to get the result,” said Simmons, who is in charge of a youthful team after the departure of Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, and Adam Ashley-Cooper.
“They’re so enthusiastic,” he added of the young guns. “They just want to play footy and it’s just about controlling those big moments.”
Force, who were playing the Asia-Pacific Global Rapid Rugby tournament before the coronavirus pandemic handed them a lifeline in Super Rugby AU, were impressive in the first 40 minutes before being overrun.
“We were good in patches there and obviously the first game so we will build through that next week,” said skipper Ian Prior.
“I think we were up to the pace … we were up there physicality-wise and conditioning-wise, it was just that little bit of ill-discipline probably let us down.”
They started with an attacking mindset and secured the first points, with Prior cleanly booting a penalty to set them on their way.
The ‘Tahs were under constant pressure with Force scoring a deserved first try on 28 minutes with young winger Byron Ralston dotting down on his debut after taking Henry Stowers’ pass.
Prior missed the conversion but made amends minutes later by landing two penalties in quick succession to stretch their lead to 14-0.
But that was as good as it got as the rattled ‘Tahs woke up with Hooper in the thick of the action.
They finally earned a try when big prop Bell crashed over after a well-worked driving maul on the half-time whistle.
It boosted their confidence and they returned with better energy, putting together a 17-phase move that led to a penalty which Harrison converted.
Another Harrison kick hauled the score back to 14-13 and with all the momentum they took the lead for the first time soon after courtesy of Staniforth dotting down.
Harrison’s conversion and a late penalty kick made sure of the win.