Folau pilots NSW Waratahs to win over Force

DARREN WALTON
Last updated 20:15 31/03/2013

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Israel Folau taunted the Western Force on field and off on Sunday as the NSW Waratahs posted back-to-back Super Rugby wins for the first time in almost a year.

The Waratahs climbed to within one competition point of the top six with a gritty 23-19 victory in a dour match dominated by the referee's whistle at Allianz Stadium.

Folau's X-factor at least provided fans with the odd flash of excitement as the code-hopping recruit ignited the few attacking raids from either side.

But Folau's halftime revelation on Fox Sports that the Waratahs entered the match believing the Force were "soft out wide" could have come back to bite him.

Instead the former rugby league international set up NSW's lone and decisive try - to Adam Ashley-Cooper in the Wallaby star's milestone 100th Super game - with a clean break seven minutes after the interval.

Ashley-Cooper's try from the very next phase shot the Tahs out to 23-9, a lead they refused to relinquish despite the Force narrowing the gap to four points.

With both teams desperate to keep their seasons alive, the derby never reached any great heights.

Two quick penalty goals from five-eighth Sias Ebersohn gave the Force an early 6-0 lead.

But NSW halfback Brendan McKibbin replied with two penalties of his own to have the game locked up at 6-all after 18 minutes.

Force prop Salesi Ma'afu found himself in the sin bin for a 19th-minute high tackle on NSW replacement hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and the Waratahs almost immediately capitalised on their one-man advantage.

A strong bust from Folau put the Tahs deep on the attack but the last pass went into touch as the home side had to settle for another penalty goal, and 9-6 lead, after the Force were pinged for offside.

New Zealand referee Steve Walsh continued to punish the Force at the breakdown and McKibbin happily nailed further penalty goals in the 29th and 33rd minutes to give the Waratahs a 15-6 advantage.

Ebersohn reduced the deficit to six points with the eighth penalty of a ho-hum first half.

As the Force continued to infringe, McKibbin was called on again just a minute into the second half to extend NSW's lead to 18-9 with his sixth penalty.

Ashley-Cooper's five-pointer seemed to have sealed it for the locals, but a converted try to fullback Alfi Mafi and another Ebersohn penalty set up a thrilling final quarter hour.

Victory gave the Waratahs two straight wins for the first time since last April.

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- AAP

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