The Waratahs and Crusaders claimed impressive wins over the Brumbies and Reds respectively, in their pre-season matches on Saturday.
Waratahs 21-17 Brumbies
The Waratahs registered a 21-17 victory over the Brumbies in their trial in Wagga Wagga.
In a side filled with a mix of new faces, experienced leaders and home grown talent, the Waratahs put on a display of impressive defence and lightning attack, fighting their way back from a 12-7 deficit at half-time to take the game by three points.
It was an impressive effort given the side lost their captain, Dave Dennis, just two minutes into the match after he suffered a nasty knock from a barnstorming Nigel Ah Wong.
Forced from the field, Dennis was replaced by young recruit Brad Wilkin in what was his first game for the Waratahs.
Wilkin, together with the likes of Jed Holloway and Jack Dempsey made great impact with the ball, following the lead of Will Skelton, Paddy Ryan and Benn Robinson who showed their skills in the forwards.
Former Blues prop, Angus Ta’avao, together with NSW Country lock, Ned Hanigan made it count in defence with some hard hitting tackles to stop the Brumbies in their tracks.
The home side was the first to add points to the board with a rolling maul that saw Brumbies’ hooker Josh Mann-Rea dot the ball over the line. With the conversion unsuccessful, the Brumbies were up by five points to nil 15 minutes into the match.
In what was his first game in the 15-man code since his high school days, NRL superstar, Reece Robinson was spectacular with the running ball. It was an exciting sign of things to come in 2016, as Robinson, together with former All Black, Zac Guildford continued to look dangerous every time the ball came their way.
Young guns, Andrew Deegan, David Horwitz and Andrew Kellaway all put their hands up in vying for a Waratahs jersey this year, finding their way through several gaps, making tackles where it counted and placing the ball well.
The Waratahs tallied up the turnover wins too, one of which found Robinson again who, flying down the sideline, set the men from NSW up for a brilliant first try to David Horwitz. Deegan was accurate with the conversion and the Waratahs were on top of the scoreboard by 7-5.
The Brumbies were keen to pack the pressure on the Waratahs at the scrum, using their powerful forwards to gain the momentum. It eventually paid off with a second try through Allan Ala’alatoa, leaving the Waratahs down by 12-7 at the half-time break.
The arm wrestle ensued in the second-half as the blistering sun settled over the 7,237-strong crowd in Wagga Wagga and head coach Daryl Gibson took to his bench to utilise his replacements.
The Waratahs were handed plenty of chances in attack, and despite a few nervous fumbles at times, managed to gain composure and continue to strike when it counted.
The next 40 minutes was neck and neck as each side took turns in fighting for possession, penalties and kicks into touch to gain territory. Things started to look dire for the Waratahs when a scrum and ensuing penalty for not rolling away saw the Brumbies come well within reach of their try-line.
Some quick-passing from their fast backline then saw another try to the Brumbies thanks to some fancy footwork and a good offload from Joe Tomane to Michael Wells who crossed for the next five pointer at the 56 minute mark.
Down by 17-7, the Waratahs held on, giving all that they had as the clock counted down to the final siren. Once more taking every chance in attack, and making the big hits count, the ‘Tahs continued to shut down the Brumbies and take the possession in their favour.
A big tackle from Ta’avao on the Brumbies’ equally solid Rory Arnold was a big game changer, handing NSW another burst of momentum as they once again came agonisingly short of the try line just ahead of the final quarter.
The Waratahs maintained the upper hand in the final quarter, continuing to press for a five pointer that could have come at any point in the last 20 minutes. The Tahs’ reaped the rewards of their maintained composure, hard hits and pressure in attack, lulling at the tryline through Guildford, Robinson and the young backs.
There was just 10 minutes on the clock, but new recruit Bryce Hegarty managed to find his way successfully in the corner to score once more for the ‘Tahs, who were now down by just three in the dying minutes.
The teamwork continued to pay off as the forwards stepped up time after time to press forward before the final try came through Ta’avao, who had been one of the many standouts all night. With the last conversion once again successful the Waratahs took the lead in the dying seconds and held on to secure victory.
Tries: Horwitz, Hegarty, Ta’avao
Con: Hegarty 2, Deegan
Tries: Mann-Rea, Ala’alatoa, Wells
Waratahs: 15 Zac Guildford, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Matt Carraro, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Andrew Deegan, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Jack Dempsey, 6 David Dennis (c), 5 Will Skelton, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Jeremy Tilse
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Matt Sandell, 20 Senio Toleafoa, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Harry Jones, 23 Bryce Hegarty, 24 Brad Wilkin, 25 Cameron Orr, 26 Rowan Perry
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Lausii Taliauli, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 11 Nigel Ah Wong, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Josh Mann-Rae, 1 Allan Alaalatoa
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Les Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Joe Tomane, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Nick Jooste, 23 James Dargaville, 24 Ruan Smith, 25 Rory Arnold, 26 Ben Hyne, 27 Michael Wells, 28 Joe Powell, 29 Isaac Thompson, 30 Jake Rakic, 32 Tevita Kuridrani
Reds 3 Crusaders 31
The Crusaders had too much ammunition for their hosts, securing a deserved 31-3 victory in Brisbane on Saturday.
The visitors outscored the Reds four tries to zero with George Bridge leading the way with a brace.
The first-half was an even affair and the Reds led 3-0 at the interval thanks to a penalty from Jake McIntyre.
The men from Christchurch stepped up a gear after half-time and soon had a penalty try awarded after Chris Kuridrani was penalised for a professional foul close to his try-line.
Bridge then pounced on a grubber kick from Richie Mo’unga to cross for his first try on the hour-mark. The flyer was soon over for his second five-pointer, after running on to a pass from Mo’unga, which meant the visitors were cruising at 21-3 after 67 minutes.
The seven-time champions weren’t done though and sealed the win when Jordan Taufua crossed for their fourth try six minutes before full-time.
Tries: Bridge 2, Taufua, penalty try
Con: Mo’unga 4
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Henry Taefu, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Lolo Fakaosilea, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 Ben Daley
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Ben Matwijow, 20 Lukhan Tui, 21 Curtis Browning, 22 Maclean Jones, 23 Michael Gunn, 24 James Tuttle, 25 Mack Mason, 26 Chris Kuridrani, 27 Duncan Paia’aua, 28 Campbell Magnay, 29 Alex Gibbon, 30 Sam Greene
Crusaders: 15 Marty McKenzie, 14 George Bridge, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 David Havili, 11 Sione Fifita, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Leon Fukofuka, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Jimmy Tupou (c), 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Mike Alaalatoa, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ben Funnell, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Oliver Jager, 20 Samuel Whitelock, 21 Mitchell Dunshea, 22 Reed Prinsep, 23 Mitchell Drummond, 24 Richie Mo’unga, 25 Kieron Fonotia, 26 Mitchell Hunt, 27 Johnny McNicholl, 28 Nemani Nadolo