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Waratahs down Blues in Super 14 warm up

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The Waratahs have extended their pre-season winning record with a 28-21 win over the Blues from Auckland at the pictuesque Central Coast Stadium overnight in front of a healthy crowd of nearly 11,000. With both teams boasting several internationals, the 3-try-apiece spectacle demonstrated a number of positives for opposing coaches McKenzie and Nucifora especially with regard to a number of off-season signings.


From the opening bone-crunching tackle on Waratah half Brett Sheehan after the Waratah pack failed to take the kick-off cleanly, to 5-minutes in when fellow new-recruit Norton-Knight took on the Blues inside backs Stephen Larkham-style with a similar result it was clear that the Blues weren’t on the Central Coast for a holiday. Soon after the crowd were on their feet with Sailor’s first run, though were promptly seated again as his timing and a number of Blues forwards let him down.


9 minutes into the first quarter the Waratahs were handed a penalty in a kickable position by Sydney referee George Ayoub, which 2005 sensation Peter Hewat was able to steer successfully through the posts. Being a trial game, the crowd voiced their displeasure with this tactic – which seemed even more perplexing as the name of Super14 rugby is surely to score tries in search of vital bonus-points.


From the restart the Waratahs were again unable to secure aerial posession, resulting several minutes later in a try to Blues half John Senio after good hands down the right hand side and some exceptional footwork from former Highlanders No. 13 Anthony Tuitivake.


The Waratahs lineout functioned with the same precision as 2005 through the first quarter, with a win with the feed on Auckland’s line being sent wide on the bounce from Norton-Knight to Wallaby vice-captain Turinui who was able to reach over the line with Tuitivake left clutching at his bootstraps. The teams went for quarter-time oranges with the Waratahs leading 10-7, with posession and territory honours being shared equally through the 20 minutes.


The second quarter began with a lineout close to the Blues line on their left wing, though through spectacular Tuitivake footwork and poor defensive reading by Carter and Turinui the Blues were deep in the Waratahs half – the final chip kick for the line cleaned-up skillfully by Hewat.


A Blues penalty ensued, for which they attempted the old-book Rugby League wall formation, an interesting though not particularly successful innovation on this occasion. Following an unsuccessful Auckland kick for penalty goal after a Hewat fumble on his own 22, the Waratahs made their first replacement at blindside flank replacing 2005-Wallaby Rocky Elsom with the menacing figure of Wycliff Palu.


After a number of uncharacteristic Waratah lineout losses on the throw, Hewat nailed a penalty from halfway to take the Waratahs in at halftime with a 13-7 lead. The 3rd quarter started well-and-truly under lights as the sun disappeared behind the Western grandstand, and the outstanding Ali Williams took the opening kickoff well above his head as a lesson to the misaligned Waratahs of the 1st half.


A completely re-organised Waratah backline showed a sign of things to come in 2006 early with Whitaker, Donnelly, Berne and Tuqiri showing exception skill and angled-running, which resulted in the returning Elsom scoring beneath the black-dot to take the Waratahs out to 20-7.


Auckland quickly recovered possession and attacked from this point down the left hand side where Chris Siale was unable to resist the explosive Joe Rokocoko. McAllister converted from the sideline to take the Blues back to 20-14 down, though the locals soon crept further away to 23-14 with another penalty kick.


From the ensuing restart the Waratahs once again failed to secure possession with Williams once again securing Blue ball. After a number of turnovers of possession, Palu busted the defensive line wide open and Berne acting as a runner/distributor in the number 12 brilliantly supported to put Stephen Hoiles in next to the posts and put the Tahs out by 28-14. Territory and possession were fairly even throughout the 3rd quarter, with attacking raids from both sides reaching within the opposing 22.


From here the scorers weren’t bothered until the last minute of the game when McAllister scored and converted out wide to bring the final score to a respectable 28-21 in the Waratahs favour. The final quarter didn’t offer the coaches much insight into the new season as both sides failed to convert pressure into scoring opportunities, however Auckland’s glut of territory and possession should have yielded more points.


It was moreso the Blues lack of patience than the Waratahs defence that lead to this situation, and will surely be addressed by new coach Nucifora in the coming days.


While the Waratah pack demonstrated strength in the scrum, in the air at the lineout and restart they showed they have some work to do before the Super 14 season gets underway. The backline looks as explosicve as ever with Rogers still to return, and how McKenzie will fit the talent he has into a starting lineup is still anyone’s guess.


For Blues fans the excitement of seeing Nacewa, Rokocoko and Tuitivake in the outside backs must be tantilising, with the mercurial McAllister finally likely to make the number 10 jersey his own.


The Waratahs move on to their final trial at their home-base of Aussie Stadium next Saturday night against the Crusaders. With Rogers set to return from bereavement leave, this game shapes to be a showdown between 2 of this seasons heavyweights.


Ric Ley


29 Jan 06

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