The NSW Waratahs have gone down by 34-28 to the Blues in Auckland tonight in a tight defeat that earned them a bonus point.
The Tahs came to the fight early with an arm wrestle for possession in the first ten minutes of the match. Keen to take home a bonus point win to send them straight into the qualifiers next week, NSW once again didn’t shy away in their second Kiwi battle in as many weeks.
The Auckland side soon showed some pizzazz in attack but were let down with a knock on close to the line. The Tahs capitalised as they got back on the front foot with ball in hand.
A well placed kick from Nick Phipps handed the Waratahs a lineout well in the Blues 22. They were almost over before a penalty brought on a scrum, which was reset several times.
After several more penalties, the referee gifted the Tahs a penalty try; the NSW forwards making a solid effort to seal the opening five-pointer just over 20 minutes into the match.
First on the board, with a good conversion from Foley, NSW were up by 7 points to nil.
The Blues then took their turn at possession, bringing the ball close to the Tahs’ line this time before the visitors managed to get it out of the danger zone.
The home side were quick to strike again though, crossing for their first try through lock, Patrick Tuipulotu in the corner. The try was checked by the TMO, first for potential foul play and then to see how the ball was placed. It was eventually awarded, but with the conversion missed from centre, Piers Francis the Tahs stayed in the lead by two.
Auckland were next to score again after the Waratahs were pulled up for taking a man in the air at the kick-off and were then caught offside. A nice kick from flyhalf Ihaia West enabled his side to apply the pressure at the breakdown on the NSW line before they too were awarded a penalty try.
The conversion was good from the Blues’ this time, bringing their lead out to 12-7 just over half an hour into the match.
The Tahs responded by putting together a few good phases, which earned them a penalty, this time with the Blues offside. Opting to keep the ball in hand, the Waratahs sent the ball into touch.
The game was taken down to a scrum again perched upon the visitors’ line. The final moments of the first half spelled out in nail-biting fashion as the Waratahs continued to puncture the Blues line. They looked certain to score several times but were beaten by the half-time hooter, forcing them to enter the sheds at 12-7 down.
Up for the task in an immense second half, the Tahs continued to show moments of brilliance in attack with an offload from Jack Dempsey sending Captain, Michael Hooper down the field to gain crucial metres.
The next phase saw the third penalty try of the game, again awarded to NSW as the Blues’ front row continued to buckle in the scrum. About 15 minutes in to the second half, the Tahs had edged ahead by 14-12 thanks to another successful conversion from Foley.
But the home side continued to come at the NSW Waratahs, and despite conceding several penalties, found the try line again as Piers Francis penetrated the NSW defence. He managed to convert his own five-pointer, handing his side the lead again by 19-14. The midfielder extended their lead further about ten minutes later with a penalty going in their favour.
Remaining keen to go home with the win, the Waratahs found their third try through Israel Folau, his 11th of the season. Foley kept the scoreboard ticking over, bringing the Tahs within one point with 20 minutes left to go on the clock.
The Tahs were still behind by just one with just seven minutes to go after a try to the Blues was answered with another try to Tahs front row replacement, Angus Ta’avao against his former teammates.
The Blues gained the final upper hand, scoring one more try than the Waratahs could manage as George Moala dotted the ball down with just over a minute to go. Despite some unwavering last minute play from the Tahs, the home side retained their 34-28 lead at the 80 minute mark.
With the Waratahs remaining in the battle throughout the match, their close defeat earned them one bonus point. Their chances at the2016 qualifiers will be determined by the result of the Brumbies v Western Force match tomorrow night in Canberra, a win by the Perth based side guaranteeing the Tahs a place in the qualifiers.
Auckland Blues, 34 (Tuipulotu, Francis, Nanai, Moala, penalty – tries, Francis (3) – conv, 1 pen) defeated the NSW Waratahs, 28 (Folau, Ta’avao, penalty (2)– tries, Foley (4) – conv).