Standout Sweeney at a loss to explain defeat
Dwayne Sweeney found plenty of gaps in the Waratahs' defence in New Plymouth on Saturday but he would trade all of them for a win.
The experienced 29-year-old winger, who has returned from a two-year playing stint in Japan to be an injury replacement in this season's squad, was a standout in the match at Yarrow Stadium with ball in hand but his bitter disappointment at the final 33-17 scoreline reflected the feeling of the team.
Afterwards he was at a loss to explain how the back-to-back Super Rugby champions had let the in-form Australian Conference leaders back in the match in the final quarter after coming from behind to take the lead after halftime.
"We obviously didn't play how we wanted to in the first half - the same old story, creating opportunities but not finishing them off - but we fought back really well in that second half and just a few lapses cost us," Sweeney said.
"It's pretty disappointing and a really hard one to swallow because when we got that lead, just in that middle part of the second half there, I really thought we were going to run it home and win quite comfortably because of the way we were playing. We had them on the back foot and we let them back into it."
The Chiefs definitely played second fiddle to a more urgent Waratahs team in the first half to trail 13-3 at halftime, but just 15 minutes into the second half they struck, with the first of two tries by replacement second-five Bundee Aki chasing kicks to start the home team's revival.
"I made a comment to the boys after Bundee's first try that from the outside looking in [the Waratahs'] legs were gone.
"We had all the momentum, we looked on top of the ground, we were running into space, running into holes carrying hard and when defending we were knocking them over and they looked like they didn't really have an answer for it.
"But then a few little mistakes, a few penalties and all of a sudden they get a bit more time, a bit more rest and they get a chance to come back at us."
From there the big Waratahs pack and their structured, controlled approach took over to first kick themselves back into 19-17 lead and then finish over the top with two converted tries to captain/flanker Dave Dennis and goal-kicking first-five Bernard Foley while denying the Chiefs the ball.
"It's a pretty disappointing way to finish when we played some awesome footy after halftime right through to the 70th minute, I suppose. The feeling was good and it's a bit hard to say what really happened right now.
"It's one of those games where you have to pick a few things out later that really cost us."
Sweeney admitted he had been enjoying himself when things were going well, running into holes and both sparking and continuing some very promising Chiefs attacks, which for the most part were never finished off.
"I've been working pretty hard on my fitness and my speed; and coming into a new environment, getting my head around the game plan and I feel really confident.
"I have for a number of weeks now [felt confident] with the game plan but this week just felt really sharp and I thought it looked like the whole team were on top in that second half, a few holes opened up for me and I managed to get through them but I would have rather had no holes and we got the win."
Sweeney said one problem of the first half had been the Waratahs being able to get around and disrupt the Chiefs' rucks because the latter were not getting properly over the ball or bringing enough depth to the ruck, which enabled the defenders to get around and harass halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and disrupt/steal ball.
"In the second half the carries got better and our breakdown work was really good - it was a good focus and a good mindset change at halftime that enabled us to get those rucks sorted.
"But to do it for 20-30 minutes isn't good enough. We hung in there with some pretty good defence and some pretty good Chiefs mana.
"But [in allowing the Waratahs to again slow the game to their controlling pace] that's where the mistakes hurt you. If you're not making those mistakes and passes are going to hand, the pressure keeps building, but that little pass that goes behind, the one that hits the ground, just kills your momentum," Sweeney said.