The NSW Waratahs’ Super Rugby title defence is firmly back on track following a drought-breaking 13-10 win over the Brumbies in Canberra.
The Waratahs’ spirited first victory in the national capital since 2011 helped the defending champions regain control of the Australian conference.
The Brumbies remain one point ahead but the Waratahs have a game in hand on their arch rivals – as well as the all-important momentum – in the run-up to the finals.
The Waratahs trailed 10-7 at the break but second-half penalty goals to Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley clinched a hard-earned and bruising victory.
Apart from ending a four-year winning drought in Canberra, the Waratahs have now beaten the Brumbies four times in a row for the first time in 20 seasons of Super Rugby.
Waratahs and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika insisted pre-match that Test spots wouldn’t be decided on one game alone, but he certainly gained an insight into which contenders were up for the big stage.
Typically, both David Pocock and Michael Hooper were.
The two classy flankers enjoyed a ding-dong battle, the powerhouse Pocock effecting several key turnovers for the Brumbies but was also penalised twice for infringing while trying to keep the lively Hooper in check.
Foley, the incumbent Wallabies five-eighth had an off night, steamrolled in defence, missing a shot at goal from in front and at times lacking composure in attack.
Despite also missing a sitter, Foley’s opposite, Christian Lealiifano was clearly superior as he took on – and beat the Waratahs’ defence on numerous occasions and generally looked more settled in the playmaker role.
Israel Folau was again NSW’s most threatening player, while Adam Ashley-Cooper was strong and heavily involved in attack and defence, narrowly outpointing Tevita Kuridrani in their outside centre duel.
The Waratahs lost Tatafu Polota-Nau inside three minutes and it must be becoming a concern for Cheika that Australia’s incumbent Test hooker continues to fight being concussed.
Polota-Nau has a history of head-related injuries and has already missed two games this year after being knocked out.
Fortunately he has a more than capable replacement at the Waratahs in Tolu Latu, who once again was hugely impressive when called on to deputise for Polota-Nau and the 22-year-old will be hard to dislodge in the run to the finals.
Given Latu’s form and Polota-Nau’s fragility, Polota-Nau may also have a fight on his hands retaining his place in the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship and World Cup.