The NSW Waratahs took a leaf out of the NSW Blues State of Origin playbook in a courageous Super Rugby win over the Chiefs.
The NSW Waratahs followed in the courageous footsteps of their NRL namesakes in a 33-17 win over the Chiefs that announced Super Rugby’s perennial underachievers as genuine title contenders.
In rugby league’s State of Origin on Wednesday night, the NSW side were inspired to a drought-breaking win in Queensland by the desire of players to fight through adversity.
Likewise for the Waratahs on Saturday in New Plymouth, their first win on New Zealand soil in four years and eight games was all about character.
Hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau lost his two front teeth in the opening exchanges and battled on to set the benchmark for the Waratahs forwards.
While captain Dave Dennis suffered an unusually deep cut above his knee only to stay on the field and charge away for the match-winning try with seven minutes on the clock.
Rattled by a video referee howler which awarded a momentum-changing try to the Chiefs’ Bundee Aki with 25 minutes to go, the Waratahs were helpless to stop a 10-point lead evaporate into a 17-16 deficit.
However, rather than panic, NSW maintained their self belief and rallied home with tries to Dennis and Bernard Foley to consolidate their place atop the Australian Conference and second on the overall ladder heading into the three-week Test break.
It was the surest sign yet that Michael Cheika’s once flaky side has turned a significant corner.
“Dave Dennis before he scored that try, he’s got seriously one of the worst cuts I’ve ever seen on a footy field,” Cheika told AAP.
“On the top of his leg – it’s a massive one. And he strapped himself up because we had no other back rower reserves left. He got himself up and then ended up running 30 metres to score that try and that pretty much sums it up.
“Polota-Nau lost his two front teeth at the start of the game and punched his way through until the end and that’s the type of thing I really like to see in a team.
“We just stuck to our guns and got the result. And against a team like the Chiefs that’s a really rewarding outcome for us.”
Wallaby Adam Ashley-Cooper also appeared to fight on with an injury, and in the first half flanker Michael Hooper was poleaxed by Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna in a contender for hit of the year, only to spring straight to his feet.
“He was hurting and he got straight back in the line because you need everyone,” Cheika said.
“The scoreline doesn’t represent how tight the game was and we needed all hands on deck all the time so there was really no opportunities for anyone to stay down.”
Last week Foley and Kurtley Beale couldn’t kick straight to save their lives.
But in the pressure cooker against the defending premiers, the pair were absolutely flawless – Foley with six from six and Beale with a 43-metre laser which answered the first of Aki’s two tries.
It was as tough as it gets in an environment which has overwhelmed the Waratahs in the past.
The Chiefs looked set to steal the game after Aki was awarded a try by the TMO despite appearing to be offside and failing to ground the ball off an Aaron Cruden kick.
NSW set up their 13-3 halftime lead thanks to Israel Folau’s 11th try of the year – a new franchise record for most tries in a season.