Tahs see off dogged Force in Super Rugby opener
RUGBY UNION: Nice and tough - but not good enough.
That was the verdict from Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson after NSW opened their Super Rugby season with a scrappy 19-13 victory over the Western Force in Sydney.
The hosts were forced to come from behind after the pumped up Perth men led by four at halftime, but with a barnstorming try from Will Skelton and the boot of Reece Robinson ticking the scoreboard over in the second period, NSW banked four points in a game they'd have easily lost in recent seasons.
Robinson ended up as the accidental hero, with his five from six off the goal kicking tee - and 14 points - proving to be the difference between the sides, who scored one try each.
The former Parramatta Eels kicker wasn't even supposed to have the duties but was called up late after Bernard Foley withdrew from the round one team with concussion.
But when a goal kicker settles the game, it's a fair bit the encounter didn't reach any huge heights and that was the case in a rain-sodden slog at Allianz Stadium.
Both teams struggled to hold any ball and though NSW tried to play with width in the first half, it was a mistaken tactic and the hosts only got on top when they tightened up in the second and matched the Force's pressure and territory game.
It went down in the "win ugly" pile for the Waratahs but putting four points in the bank was not to be sneezed at either, particularly against an Adam Coleman-fired Force side who'll beat plenty of teams this year,
Some wins get better looking as the season goes on and the Waratahs' round one victory over the Force may end up looking like a glamour when they get near finals time. In recent years they've been left rueing a dropped game at the end of the regular season, often at home, often early and often against the Force.
"We will take that four points, bank that and get on the plane (on Sunday). We could have easily dropped that game tonight. It is really pleasing we stuck in there and ground it out. We got the result, but clearly there are some areas in that game we need to improve," coach Daryl Gibson said.
"Given the conditions, I thought both teams struggled to maintain any sort of fluency and go forward in the game."
The Waratahs, admitted captain Michael Hooper post-match, were so keen to unfurl in round one their sizzling moves honed over summer that they ignored the wet and slippery conditions, and played into the hands of an aggressive Force defence and breakdown blitz.
NSW held an early lead but after sustained pressure on their line saw Scope Kepu sinbinned, the Force rolled over the NSW scrum and Jono Lance scored near the edge of the rubble.
"You want to come out and you want to light up and play the plays you have been practising all pre-season, and neither team were able to do that," Hooper said.
The Waratahs shifted the Xs and Os on their chalkboard at halftime and started playing tighter in the second period, and with forwards running off the nine. It gave them territory and Will Skelton - who tied with Tolu Latu for the Tahs' best - barged over for a try.
NSW kicked away possession and errors - both in handling and at line out time - from the Force saw them fail to build any meaningful pressure.
"We got a lot better in the second half, went narrower in our attack and tried to go through the Force and given the conditions, play off nine a lot more. It seemed to work for us," Gibson said.
Force coach Dave Wessels was angry post-match, saying he believed his team was the better side for much of the match but they'd let themselves down in critical moments.
"It became an arm-wrestle, and ultimately we probably lost it on the big moments, and lost it on the detail," Wessels said.
"You can't win in Super Rugby doing that, and particularly can't come to Sydney and do that.
"In some ways I am pleased with the enthusiasm but we are a young side and we have to learn, detail matters."
The Waratahs fly to South Africa on Sunday morning, ahead of clashes with the Lions and the Sharks. The Force meet the Reds at home on Thursday.
Matt Hodgson may return for the Perth side.