The Waratahs beat the Rebels 23-20 in a tight Australian derby at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney.
Bernard Foley starred for the Waratahs, scoring 18 of his side’s 23 points as the Sydney side held on for a fifth consecutive win over the Rebels.
His outstanding display brought the Tahs back into the game with a try, conversion and three penalties to overturn a significant first-half deficit.
Michael Hooper celebrated his 100th Super Rugby game for the Waratahs with a solid performance, but it was not without its nervy moments.
Daryl Gibson’s men, who had leaked points, somehow found a way to shore up the defence and keep Melbourne scoreless in the second half.
Reece Hodge and Billy Meakes continued their good form for the Rebels scoring a try apiece after Adam Ashley-Cooper’s five-pointer put the home side ahead in the first quarter.
Cooper and Hodge both added penalties to keep the scoreboard ticking on the famous cricket ground.
Dave Wessels’ side scored a converted try and a penalty in the final two minutes of the first half to open up a 13-point lead as the teams went into cavernous SCG change rooms.
Foley took over after halftime, helped by some ill-discipline by the Rebels.
The home team managed to cling to a narrow lead and see the game out despite some late pressure by the visitors.
A game of two first-halves
The dour match burst into life in the 18th minute after Rob Simmons’ midfield break set up Ashley-Cooper’s try.
Simmons, playing in his 138th Super Rugby match, popped to the supporting Harry Johnson-Holmes to carry into the opposition’s 22.
The ball was recycled and sent wide to Jed Holloway, whose no-look inside pass to Ashley-Copper finished a slick attack.
Foley’s conversion made it 7-3 after Quade Cooper’s early penalty.
Two minutes later, after an eight-phase attack, Meakes scooped up Alex Newsome’s knock on and waltzed over the try line to put his side back in front.
Both teams probed behind the three quarters looking for territory, and to keep the opposition pinned in their half.
At times it was scrappy as the handling errors – in contact – mounted, snuffing out all the teams’ momentum.
The visitors’ pack was starting to gain some ascendency. They won a penalty at the breakdown before a scrum-penalty in the 34th-minute.
Cooper took a shot, but he pushed his kick wide. It didn’t matter, however, because Hodge crossed a few minutes later.
The centre ghosted through Michael Wells and Damien Fitzpatrick to score under the posts. Cooper added the easy conversion.
The TMO checked for foul play by Marika Koroibete before awarding the score.
Luke Jones was guilty of an infringement in the rolling maul, allowing Hodge to extend the visitors’ lead on the stroke of halftime.
The Foley show
The Waratahs forwards found their mojo after the interval.
They won multiple penalties in the tight phases which slowly got their side back in the contest.
Foley duly punished the visitors with two penalties to reduce the deficit to six in the 53rd-minute.
The standoff showed his opportunistic nature – one he nurtured on the sevens circuit – when he scooped up an overthrown lineout and sped away to score under the sticks.
His conversion levelled the scores after a dominant 20-minute display.
Wessels’ men were shipping penalties at an alarming rate. Referee Damon Murphy warned skipper Tom English.
Another penalty followed, giving his side the lead with 15 to play.
Hodge missed a long-range penalty that bounced off the posts.
Sam Talakai was yellow-carded two phases later after multiple infringements by the visitors.
Mr Murphy had had enough, promptly going to his pocket after another series of misdemeanours.
As the clock entered injury time, the Rebels mounted a last effort. They patiently went through the phases, marching into the Tahs’ half.
They were getting into kicking territory when, after 15 phases, they took their eye off the ball, knocking on which allowed the hosts to claim the win.
Final Score: Waratahs 23 (7) Rebels 20 (17)
Tries – Ashley-Cooper, Foley
Pen – Foley (3)
Con – Foley (2)
Tries – Meakes, Hodge
Pen – Cooper, Hodge
Con – Cooper (2)
Cards – S. Talakai (Yellow, 72′)
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant Ref 1: Nic Berry
Assistant Ref 2: Jordan Way
TMO: James Leckie
15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Will Miller, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Curtis Rona.
15 Reece Hodge, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English (captain), 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 Sione Tuipulotu.