An out-of-this-world Israel Folau led the Waratahs to an emphatic and vital 45-25 win over the Chiefs on Friday night, keeping them on top of the Australian conference.
After weeks of inconsistent form, the Waratahs showed their most complete performance of the season at the exact moment when they needed it most.
The win puts them five points ahead of the Brumbies, meaning their southern rivals must score a bonus-point win over the Sunwolves on Saturday night in Canberra to have a chance of leading the conference into the Test break..
Folau had a hand in almost every try of the evening, while his skipper Michael Hooper had his first career-double in an unrelenting performance, the Waratahs’ biggest score against the Chiefs since a 46-point haul in 2010.
A Waratahs penalty inside two minutes gave the home side an early lead but it was the Chiefs who had the early momentum.
One misstep and the Waratahs changed that, though, with Israel Folau scoring a spectacular 85m intercept pass handing NSW their first try of the night, and 800th of all time.
The inconsistency of the Waratahs struck just four minutes later, with a Nick Phipps in-goal fumble giving Seta Tamanivalu an unlikely reply.
Cruden added another in the 20th minute to draw level, taking advantage as the Chiefs massively outnumbered the Waratahs in the corner, collecting a pass off fullback Damian McKenzie.
A yellow card to Wycliff Palu in the 26th minute, for a dangerous neckroll, put the Waratahs down a man and facing a massive challenge.
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Damian McKenzie put the Chiefs in front for the first time, in the 34th minute, after holding much of the field position in the opening half.
Wycliff Palu and Will Skelton set in motion Hoopers’ first try in the 40th minute, in a match where the home side seemed to be riding high on belief despite having the odds against them.
IT was the Chiegs who broke the second half deadlock, with hooker Nathan Harris crossing after after 10 phases deep in Waratahs territory.
Folau spread the love in the 51st minute, with an elusive step setting up Andrew Kellaway for his first Super Rugby try, before Hooper’s second stretched the margin to 13 points.
The Waratahs outside centre had his second try in the 63rd minute, surviving a forward pass review, before the Chiefs hit back through Toni Pulu in the 68th minute.
NSW backrower Jack Dempsey had the final say with a 78th minute try, to seal the
The Waratahs will next play in Tokyo, with a July 2 clash against the Sunwolves.
(Tries: Hooper 2, Folau 2, Kellaway, Dempsey Cons: Foley 6 Pens: Foley )
(Tries: Tamanivalu, Cruden, Harris, Pulu Cons: McKenzie Pens: McKenzie )