The NSW Waratahs kept their Super Rugby AU hopes alive in a tense nine-try thriller Saturday, edging the Melbourne Rebels 38-32 to send the season to the wire.
Rob Simmons team wanted a bonus-point win – scoring three tries or more than the opposition – to secure a place in the playoffs, but were denied by Matt Toomua’s gutsy Rebels who battled hard to keep the try margin to one.
Waratahs ease their path into Super Rugby AU playoffs
With the Waratahs having a bye in the final round next week, the Rebels can sneak past them and into the top three but must beat Western Force, with the margin of victory all important.
Whoever makes the grade will play the Queensland Reds for the right to face the ACT Brumbies in the September 19 final.
“We’re still in the hunt. It was clear we were going for the bonus point win tonight, which would have been nice, but important to get the win,” said skipper Simmons, who will be playing for London Irish next season. “It keeps us in the fight and we’ll see what happens next week.”
The Rebels had won their last two games against the Waratahs and got the first points on the board, but went to the break 17-10 behind and couldn’t find a way to make it three-out-of three.
“We’re obviously disappointed, I thought the Waratahs were hungrier, particularly around the ruck,” said Toomua. “It’s a loss, but if we win next week then we’re through.”
After going behind to a Toomua penalty, the ‘Tahs found their grove and Jake Gordon darted over for the opening try from a drive off the lineout.
They piled on the pressure and stretched their lead with Jack Dempsey snaring a pick-and-go try after a nine phase build-up.
Will Harrison added the extras but the Rebels fought hard to claw their way back.
Their persistence paid off with Toomua trampling two defenders for their opening five-pointer, which he converted, before Harrison’s golden boot sent the Sydney side into half-time 17-10 ahead.
But their hopes of the bonus point win took a hit after the restart when big No.8 Isi Naisarani crashed over for another Rebels try, and Toomua’s conversion levelled the scores.
With their season at stake, Simmons’ men rallied immediately with Harry Johnson-Holmes and Joey Walton crossing the line to build a 10-point cushion.
It was end-to-end action and Marika Koroibete dragged the Rebels back into contention with a sliding try in the corner, before Naisarani bagged his brace.
It put the Melbourne team within two points inside the last 10 minutes until Michael Hooper charged down a Rebels kick and it bounced perfectly for Harrison who swan-dived over the line.
The try ensured the win but a late Toomua penalty gave the Rebels a crucial bonus point for restricting the loss to seven points or less.
© Agence France-Presse