Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau star in Waratahs romp
Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau sizzled as the NSW Waratahs shot back to the top of the Australian conference with a 32-8 Super Rugby whipping of the Melbourne Rebels.
After a ho-hum first half on Friday night, three flashes of brilliance from Beale turned the match and sparked the Waratahs to a third bonus-point triumph in four starts this campaign.
With victory, the Waratahs also regained the Weary Dunlop Shield after the Rebels' surprise win last year season in Melbourne.
Shown the door by the Rebels last year after a series of off-field misdemeanours, Beale reminded his former teammates what they were missing with a classy display at Allianz Stadium.
With the Waratahs ambling and clinging to an 11-8 lead early in the second half, Beale's sharp inside pass to Peter Betham sliced the defence open and the fleet-footed winger raced 40 metres to dive over in the left-hand corner.
Moments later, Beale made a scything 20-metre run before picking up Folau on the inside, with the fullback strolling over untouched to score under the sticks.
With five-eighth Bernard Foley slotting both conversions, suddenly the Waratahs were in command at 25-8 up after 50 minutes.
Fittingly, the Waratahs' bonus point came late when Beale made a clean break from inside his own quarter and Folau loomed up in support to cash in for his eighth try in four matches in 2014.
But Beale and Folau weren't NSW's only stars.
Foley also impressed, while giant lock Will Skelton proved a menacing presence after being promoted to start.
South African important Jacques Potgeiter excelled after being shifted from the second row to blindside flanker.
Led by firebrand No.8 Scott Higginbotham, the Rebels frustrated the Waratahs in the first half.
It was the Rebels captain's 17th-minute try, after an early five-pointer to Waratahs winger Alofa Alofa, that had the visitors trailing by only three points at the break.
But Rebels coach Tony McGahan admitted Beale's impact had been the difference.
"Kurtley's a very dangerous player once he gets quick front-foot ball," he said.
"There's no better player to be able to pick out a weak defender in the line and to exploit and you saw what he did there this evening after two turnovers."
It was a particularly forgettable night for winger Lachlan Mitchell, who was supposed to celebrate becoming the first Rebel to play 50 matches for the franchise.
Instead, Mitchell lasted barely quarter of an hour before falling victim to a heavy tackle from Skelton.
NSW coach Michael Cheika felt Beale "maybe tried a bit too hard" to prove a point against his old team in the first half, but praised the midfield playmaker
"It's a sign of how Kurtley is maturing that he didn't panic. He just stuck to his game, made one nice little manoeuvre at the start of the second half, which put Peter Betham over for the try," he said.
"That settled him down and then he got going from there."
NSW's bounce-back win, after having their bubble burst by the Brumbies last week in Canberra, left the Waratahs in good spirits ahead of a tough two-game tour of South Africa.
The Tahs face the table-topping Sharks next weekend in Durban before travelling to Cape Town to tackle the Stormers.