NSW Waratahs off to a flying Super Rugby start
An Israel Folau triple and a miraculous try to rookie Alofa Alofa delivered the Waratahs an emphatic six-try bonus-point win over the Force in Sydney on Sunday.
Coach Michael Cheika threw a back line stacked with ball players and a host of ball-carrying forwards at the Force's proud defence and it worked, NSW dismantling the West Australians to get their season off to a flying start.
There were handling errors galore and a number of missed opportunities in attack early on, but a tidier second half put the Waratahs beyond reach at Allianz Stadium despite glimpses of attacking potency from the Force.
Stand-out performances from NSW forwards Paddy Ryan, Will Skelton and Wycliff Palu, among others, put the Waratahs on the front foot, and the class and pace of backs Folau, Alofa, Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale finished off enough opportunities to make the difference.
Three penalties to Force five-eighth Zack Holmes and tries to Nick Cummins and Kyle Godwin kept the visitors in the hunt for 65 minutes but it was not enough when their forwards tired and NSW emptied their bench.
Cheika's decision to start all of his ballplayers paid dividends early when the Waratahs exploited a gap out wide in the second minute to send Folau over for the Waratahs' first try of the season.
Prop Paddy Ryan made the metres before halfback Phipps sent the ball wide from the ruck, passing through the hands of Foley, Beale, Will Skelton and Folau, who gave it to rookie winger Alofa Alofa before finishing the job under the posts.
Foley missed the conversion in what would turn out to be an inconsistent night with the boot. Holmes' own wobbles - the five-eighth missed two from six attempts - would give NSW the breathing room they needed early on.
The Waratahs led 5-0 until Holmes put the visitors on the board with his second penalty goal attempt.
Foley made it 8-5 to NSW in the 17th minute before Folau scored to notch his first double in Super Rugby. Foley converted to make it 15-3.
The Force woke up after that and made the Waratahs pay for some ill-discipline, narrowing the gap to 15-6 before Cummins scored the visitors' first try. Holmes missed the conversion to keep the side four points behind and well and truly in the hunt with five minutes to go in the half.
The Waratahs hit back before the break with the most unlikely of tries to the hungriest of young wingers.
Alofa, the 22-year-old West Harbour rookie whose startling pre-season form earned him a place in the starting side, chased down an errant shot at goal from Foley, pouncing on the ball as it bounced off the upright to score his maiden Super Rugby try after the siren.
Foley made sure his next attempt went through the posts and the Waratahs ran into the sheds 22-11 leaders.
The Waratahs felt the heat of the referees' whistle in the second half, Rohan Hoffman warning captain Dave Dennis to keep his forwards onside within a minute of the re-start.
Dennis barked at second rower Skelton to rein in his play but a minute later Hoffman pulled out the yellow card, sending off Ryan - one of the Waratahs' most effective players in the first half - while the Force looked ready to strike.
But the visitors lacked a ruthless edge and settled for just three points despite a one-man overlap and 10 minutes inside the Waratahs' danger zone.
NSW second row Kane Douglas ran over in the 58th minute to make it 29-14 with 22 minutes to go.
The Force were not ready to concede, a Cummins intercept on his own side's 22 ended up with a try to Godwin moments later at the other end, and Holmes nailed the conversion to put the Force within eight points of an upset.
But the Waratahs were having none of it. Carraro busted through the middle two minutes later to give Folau an easy triple, and Foley kicked the Waratahs to a 36-21 lead.
Carraro, in his first Super Rugby game since returning from France last year, struck again with a straight run and pass to Beale, who scored in the 71st minute.
Foley converted to seal a 43-21 victory.
The final 10 minutes were marred by injury to Force reserve Brynard Stander, who was stretchered off.
NSW Waratahs 43 (Israel Folau 3, Alofa Alofa, Kurtley Beale, Kane Douglas tries Bernard Foley 5 cons pen) Western Force 21 (Nick Cummins, Kyle Godwin tries Zack Holmes con 3 pens) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Rohan Hoffman. Crowd: 15,785.
Sydney Morning Herald