The NSW Waratahs have started 2016 with a bang, beating the Brumbies 21-17 with a late try in their first pre-season Super Rugby trial – minus stand-in skipper David Dennis.
Dennis, who led the side in the absence of Michael Hooper, was floored by a rampaging Nigel Ah Wong in the opening minutes of Saturday’s match in Wagga Wagga and taken off with concussion.
He didn’t return.
“It’s a long way to come for four minutes of footy,” said the 30-year-old, who is leaving the club for England at season’s end.
“I would’ve loved to have a bit of a run, but the guys did a good job out there and got the result.”
Dennis watched on as last year’s Australian conference winners – albeit with a vastly different line-up – went toe-to-toe with their old foes.
Code-hopper Reece Robinson made a flying start on debut for the Waratahs, lending a hand in their first try, scored by inside centre David Horwitz.
But it was Angus Ta’avao who planted the game-winner with 90 seconds to go.
New recruit Bryce Hegarty also scored and had two conversions.
Aside from too many dropped balls in attack, Dennis was pleased with their overall performance.
“We showed a bit of resilience there – it was 17-7 at one stage,” he said.
“To hang in there and come home strong in the second half it was really positive. It’s something to build on.”
Both sides rested a majority of their Wallabies, with the Waratahs featuring only one of their World Cup stars in Will Skelton.
The towering second-rower appeared to make a smooth return to the game after tearing a pectoral late last year, playing about 40 minutes.
The Brumbies also blooded Argentina halfback Tomas Cubelli, while fellow internationals Sam Carter, Ben Alexander, Joe Tomane and first-time acting captain Matt Toomua also got game time.
With SANZAR foreshadowing a crack down on rolling mauls this season, the Brumbies were keen to show off a more attacking brand of rugby.
But the Canberra-based outfit reverted to their trusted old ways for the game’s opening try, scoring off a maul in the 10th minute via Josh Mann Rea.
Allan Alaalatoa and Jarrad Butler scored their other five-pointers.
“There’s a lot of pleasing things out of that,” said Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham.
“Obviously it hurts to lose any game in the last two minutes, but it is a trial game.
“Our set-piece was superb, we found some really good shape in attack in that first half, we didn’t get a lot of ball in the second half, but I thought the effort was mostly there in that second half.”
The Brumbies face the Queensland Reds in their second and last trial next week, while the Waratahs head to New Zealand.