The NSW Waratahs have emerged battered and bruised but with a vital win against Fijian Drua in a brutal Super Round rugby clash in Melbourne.
The Waratahs scored six tries, including five in the second half, to post a rousing 46-17 victory at AAMI Park on Saturday night to bank their first win of the Super Rugby Pacific season.
The Sydneysiders broke a 17-17 deadlock in the 56th minute with No.8 Langi Gleeson, who was one of their best, planting the ball across the line.
From there they were never headed, with five-eighth Tane Edmed touching down before Max Jorgensen and Mark Nawaqanitawase both took advantage of a 13-man Drua team.
NSW coach Darren Coleman admitted he was relieved to get the win after losing to the Brumbies in Sydney in the first round.
“It was real crunch time for the season – I know it’s early talking about the season but we were in a bit of a dark place after last week emotionally and confidence always gets dented when you don’t do some things well,” Coleman told reporters.
“That first half off they really got into us and they scored again straight after halftime and I was really nervous.
“I was just really proud of how we stayed in the fight and stuck to our plan and didn’t lose patience in what our tactical keys were and we rolled over them – it was unreal.”
The Waratahs started strongly but had little to show for their early dominance, restricted to a try in the 10th minute from Dave Porecki, the hooker diving across the line from the back of the ruck.
Buoyed by a vocal crowd who at one staged cheered every hit on a Waratahs player, the Fijians started to work their way into the game.
They were piggy-backed with NSW, on the back foot as they lost the collision, racking up nine penalties.
Fijian Drua hit the lead in the 31st minute through flanker Jo Tamani, with a late penalty by Edmed squaring the game at 10-10.
The Waratahs looked happy to reach the break level, with lock Jed Holloway telling TV commentary his team had been “bashed” in the final 10 minutes before the whistle.
Drua hooker Tevita Ikanivere crashed through Jake Gordon to again give his side the lead three minutes into the second half but the Waratahs hit back five minutes later through fullback Ben Donaldson.
Gleeson’s effort opened the floodgates for the Waratahs to pick up an important bonus point in the win.
Fijian Drua coach Mick Byrne was shattered for his team, who had to play with 13 men due to injury and a yellow card in the front row which meant they were forced into uncontested scrums through the second half.
He felt his team faced different challenges, citing an example that last week a player was ruled out for 12 days after failing a HIA when he was unable to answer the doctor’s concussion question because he didn’t speak English.
“There’s challenges for us – I’m not hiding away under excuses because we came out today and went hard at them,” Byrne said.
“We got beaten fair and square today but when we went down to 13 we were in a bit of trouble.”
DRUA (1-15): Jone Tiko, Tevita Zuriel Togiatama (c), Samuela Tawake, Isoa Nasilasila, Leone Rotuisolia, Joseva Tamani, Kitione Salawa, Te Ahiwararu Cirikidaveta, Frank Lomani, Caleb Muntz, Tuidraki Samusamuvodre, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Iosefo Masi, Selestino Ravutaumada, Ilaisa Droasese
RESERVES: Zuriel Togiatama, Livai Natave, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, Sorovakatini Tuifagalele, Elia Canakaivata, Peni Matawalu, Teti Tela, Taniela Rakuro
WARATAHS (1-15): Tom Lambert, Dave Porecki, Archer Holz, Jed Holloway, Hugh Sinclair, Lachlan Swinton, Michael Hooper, Langi Gleeson, Jake Gordon (c), Tane Edmed, Max Jorgensen, Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Ben Donaldson
RESERVES: Tolu Latu, Te Tera Faulkner, Dan Botha, Taleni Seu, Will Harris, Charlie Gamble, Harrison Goddard, Ben Dowling.