Waratahs state finals intentions in Lions rout
The Waratahs powered back into finals contention and within a point of Australian conference leaders the Brumbies with a 41-13 bonus-point win against the Lions in Sydney on Sunday.
A barnstorming individual try from Rob Horne and decisive performances from playmakers Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale helped NSW survive a tense first half and put on 17 unanswered points in the second.
Despite a lethal maul and powerful scrum in the first half, the Lions exhibited little of the fighting spirit that spurred a four-try second-half comeback against the Highlanders a week earlier. The Waratahs were firmly in control by the 45th minute and did not let up for the rest of the match.
For many in the blue jersey it was a timely look-at-me effort at the last possible moment before Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie names his 32-man squad for the June Test series against France.
With a shoulder injury accounting for No.10 jersey frontrunner Quade Cooper in Brisbane on Saturday, Foley's ninth-minute try and 14-point goal kicking haul came at an opportune moment.
Beale, who seemed destined for the Wallabies bench amid a crowded playmakers' market, was also impressive, scoring his fifth try of the season and pulling out his much-maligned trademark chip-kick to put Adam Ashley-Cooper over in the 49th minute.
The latest league player to join the Waratahs' stable, Taqele Naiyarovoro, also made his Super Rugby debut, coming on at the 70-minute mark when the match was all but stitched up at 34-13 and making a powerful bolt down the flank to make his mark.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika will be doing all he can to keep Horne on for another season after yet another assertive performance.
The winger's first strike at the line was ruled a forward pass from No.7 Michael Hooper in the fifth minute but his next effort, 40 minutes later, did not miss. Nor did his third, a try in the corner right on the full time buzzer.
Foley scored first in the ninth minute and converted to put NSW to a 7-0 lead. But poor discipline allowed the Lions into the game and kept them well in the hunt for the rest of the half.
The South Africans deployed a powerful maul to score their first try, grounded by No.6 Jaco Kriel, in the 13th minute. Sharp-shooter Marnitz Boshoff converted to equalise 7-7.
The sides traded penalties next before Foley put through a short grubber to give Beale his fifth try of the season. Boshoff just missed a long range drop goal next but nailed a penalty in the 32nd minute to keep the scores tight at 17-13.
The Waratahs did well to survive the next eight minutes without conceding a point. The Lions rolled out their maul again and kept the home side pinned well in their 22 until just before the buzzer.
Horne lit up Allianz Stadium after the break and set the tone for the rest of the half with a spectacular streak downfield within five minutes of the re-start.
He steamrolled Lions winger JW Jonker and weaved past the cover defence to score behind the posts. Foley converted to make it 24-13.
The Lions went one man down, losing Deon Van Rensburg to the sin bin for repeated ruck infringements and Beale read the defence well to put Ashley-Cooper in place to score the side's fourth try and secure the bonus point.
Foley converted to further the Waratahs lead to 31-13 as they reclaimed their spot in the top six, as well as second place in the Australian conference, just one point behind the Brumbies with a game in hand.
Foley added another three points to the tally in the 62nd minute as the Lions looked to have given up.
This time there was no rousing four-try comeback. The South African side headed to Perth on a six game losing streak, while the Waratahs finished off just their second back-to-back victories of the season.