SYDNEY (AP) — The New South Wales Waratahs’ first Super Rugby match without suspended fullback Israel Folau turned into an impressive victory on Saturday.
The Waratahs overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit and held Australian conference leaders Melbourne Rebels scoreless over the final 40 minutes to register a 23-20 victory, moving them within four points of the Rebels.
Folau was suspended last week for anti-gay social media comments and is awaiting a code of conduct hearing which will decide his future, both with the Waratahs and the Australia national team. Rugby Australia said it intends to sever its contract with the 30-year-old test veteran.
Without Folau, who is Super Rugby’s record try-scorer, flyhalf Bernard Foley scored a try and kicked two conversions and three penalties to account for all 16 of the Waratahs’ points in the second half.
Kurtley Beale, who replaced Folau at fullback, had a strong kicking game while Foley outplayed his opposite No. 10 Quade Cooper.
“We knew if we stuck to our game plan and sharpened up in our penalties we were a real shot,” said Waratahs captain Michael Hooper, who played his 100th match for the team.
“That bloke has so much ticker,” Hooper said of Foley. “He rises to the challenge when he gets put under the pump. He had a great game and led us so well.”
The Canberra-based ACT Brumbies also made up ground in the Aussie conference with a 19-17 win in South Africa over the Stormers.
The Brumbies jumped out to a 12-3 lead with tries by forwards Peter Samu and Rory Arnold in the first 10 minutes in Cape Town.
Stormers scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies made up for his kick being charged for Arnold’s try with a break late in the half. It ended a meter from the try-line with him being cut down by a high tackle by Brumbies winger Tony Pulu.
After a video review, Pulu went to the sin-bin and the Stormers were awarded a penalty try, then scored again early in the second through prop Wilco Louw.
Down 17-12, the Brumbies created a third try for fullback Tom Banks in the 58th minute and Christian Lealiifano’s conversion proved to be the match-winning points as the Brumbies defended resolutely for the remainder of the game, racking up a monumental 226 tackles by the end.
“We couldn’t really unlock our backline the way we wanted,” Lealiifano said. “We had to find other ways and our defense was that today.”
Overall standings leaders the Crusaders had a bye weekend and didn’t play but second-place Rebels couldn’t capitalize and are 10 points behind the defending champions. The third-placed Bulls, the South African conference leaders, also had a bye.
In an earlier game Saturday, a second-half penalty try helped lift the Highlanders to a 24-12 win over the Blues in a New Zealand derby.
The Blues’ 33-26 victory over the Highlanders in round six was, and remains, their first and only win over a New Zealand opponent in three years. Their subsequent match in the New Zealand conference resulted in a narrow loss to the Hamilton-based Chiefs.
Buoyed by wins over the Waratahs and South Africa’s Stormers, the Blues entered Saturday’s match as favorites but the Highlanders’ strong second half called into question their touted revival.
A huge scrum surge in the 50th minute brought the Highlanders a penalty try which made their lead comfortable and it became decisive with a 40-meter intercept touchdown by Matt Faddes six minutes later.
“I’m just glad we stuck to what we’ve been practising all week and put it out there on the field,” Highlanders captain Ben Smith said. “These New Zealand games are always tough.”
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