BERRY’S Will Miller and his NSW Waratahs shot a message to Australian conference leaders the Rebels and Reds with a sizzling six-try comeback under oppressive conditions at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
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It could have been the jet lag or the wicked heat – we'll call it a stultifying combination of both – but the home side spent the first half doing their best impression of a big, blue doormat in their homecoming clash with the Rebels on Sunday.
Dave Wessels' power-packed visitors piled on three unanswered tries to shoot out to a 20-3 lead before the Waratahs realised they were at home and not still halfway across the world on foreign turf.
Lalakai Foketi scored the Waratahs' first try to make it 20-10 on half-time and the home side burst out of the gates to pile on four tries in the next 20 minutes as the Rebels appeared to wilt under the 39-degree heat.
Two tries to powerhouse Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro and the positional switch up on Israel Folau appeared to pay off when the Waratahs figured out how to put the visitors under pressure.
To say nothing of the return of Test prop Sekope Kepu, who single-handedly restored respect to the NSW set-piece.
The Rebels rallied with a fourth try late in the game but Naiyarovoro's second try and a Bernard Foley penalty made it 51-27 to put the result beyond doubt against the Aussie conference ladder.
After five rounds NSW still sit below Queensland and Melbourne but with that performance to blow out the cobwebs and a bye to rest up, their season still now has a beating pulse.
Wessels and captain Adam Coleman will be searching for answers after the visitors went missing and watched their first-half dominance go up in flames under scorching conditions.
Match officials implemented heat protocols, giving both teams water breaks at the 20- and 60-minute marks.
Tom English opened the scoring for Melbourne after a comical passage of play in the Waratahs' red zone.
Folau intercepted a pass to disrupt a Rebels raid but found Kurtley Beale unprepared for his quick throw back. English pounced on the ball when it popped up out of Beale's mitts and the centre made it 5-nil.
Reece Hodge missed the conversion.
The Waratahs were impatient, turning over possession when they built up a head of steam early on.
A serious head knock to Force fullback Dane Haylett-Petty stopped play in the 14th minute.
The former Force back was knocked unconscious after tackling Folau on the sideline and absorbing the full force of the winger's left hip in flight.
Hodge cried foul when the TMO disallowed his try in the 20th minute. Hodge lost control of the ball as he hit the ground but re-gathered it with a hand and grounded it after its first bounce.
He added three points soon after to put the Rebels 8-3 in front.
The Waratahs had their next chance after a Foley penalty attempt bounced off the left upright, but they could not convert the territory to points.
The Rebels' back-row weapon Amanaki Mafi struck next, surviving a chase down by Curtis Rona and Kurtley Beale to score in the 27th minute, and Hodge converted to make it 15-3.
Waratahs' second-rower Rob Simmons was left red-faced when he over-ran the kicker at the next re-start.
The NSW pack recovered to win the ensuing scrum but the Rebels' abrasive defence made the home side work hard for every centimetre.
A Jordan Uelese hit on Foley will make it to YouTube and even number 10 Jack Debreczini had his hands in the cookie jar, snaffling the turnover to get the Rebels out of trouble in the 36th minute.
The Waratahs' misery deepened just before half-time when a break by replacement centre Billy Meakes put Jack Maddocks over for five, but NSW struck next for their first try of the match from a deflected kick, centre Lalakai Foketi grounding the ball for the first time in his Super Rugby career.
Foley's conversion sent the Waratahs into the sheds trailing 20-10 but it was the 15 minutes coming out of the break that turned the match on its head.
Folau's high-ball prowess helped spark a four-try deluge while the Rebels appeared to wilt in the afternoon glare.
They hit back to make it 41-27 but the Waratahs weren't letting this one go after their difficult tour of South Africa and Argentina, closing out the match 51-27.
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