BERRY’S Will Miller and his NSW Waratahs are celebrating a fourth straight win and the distinction of now being on top of the Australian conference after a 37-16 win over the Queensland Reds thanks to another two-try haul from wing sensation Taqele Naiyaravoro.
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Michael Hooper’s men clinched the Bob Templeton Cup at the SCG on Saturday evening with their eighth consecutive victory over the Reds in a streak that stretches back to 2014.
With the Waratahs clinging onto a seven-point lead in the second half, Naiyaravoro snared his second five-pointer of the evening in the 72nd minute to continue his remarkable try-scoring run.
The bulldozing winger has now managed seven tries in his last four games.
"He's continuing to be the difference for us on that left flank," said Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson.
"When we give him the ball in the right moments with a bit of space, he's finishing well. I'm really pleased for him."
Earlier, word quickly filtered through Waratahs camp that the Melbourne Rebels had just been beaten 25-22 by the Jaguares on home soil.
The side that sprinted out of the blocks to start the season had now come back to the pack and this was the Waratahs’ chance assert themselves at the top of the Australian conference after nine rounds.
Their four-tries-to-one victory puts them in first place on 24 points, ahead of the Rebels (21), Brumbies (14) and Reds (13).
"I haven't really thought about that," Gibson said.
"We've been so focused on taking each game as it comes. I felt tonight we did everything to get the win.
"We're thrilled to come away with that bonus-point win and to do that on such an iconic ground, I'm really thrilled for the players."
The Waratahs have now beaten all four teams in their conference this season and won four consecutive games for the first time in almost two years.
Harry Johnson-Holmes’ maiden Super Rugby try after full-time put the icing on the cake and gave the Waratahs a crucial bonus point.
"I was a little bit concerned, we had a couple of guys go down there," Hooper said.
"It was a really physical game.
“The Reds brought what we expected in big carries throughout the game's entirety.
“Happy we were able to run them for the full 80 and get a bonus point."
The Waratahs had a number of injury concerns to come out of the match.
Rob Simmons (sternum), Michael Wells (shoulder) and Will Miller (shoulder) will be assessed on Sunday.
"Hopefully it doesn't impact us too much," Gibson said.
Before match the Reds had an unwanted stat – they had scored the fewest number of tries per game of any team in Super Rugby this season.
This is a team that regularly opts to kick for penalties rather that be audacious and chase more points.
Another interesting statistic was Queensland failing to score more than 10 points in Sydney since 2013.
That was put that to bed when winger Filipo Daugunu scored in the 59th minute to ultimately reduce the margin to seven points but the Waratahs held their composure to send a warning to the Rebels that they mean business after a terrible season in 2017.
"I thought tonight was our most disappointing game of the year," said Reds coach Brad Thorn.
"I thought we were poor.
“We never really got into the game in the first half, there were a lot of penalties.
“I feel like since we've been back from our tour [to Argentina and South Africa] we quite haven't been the same team."
Foley settled the nerves with an early penalty in the fourth minute as the Waratahs began to find their groove.
On a surface conducive to running rugby, NSW were able to spread the ball from edge to edge but were guilty of trying too much, too quickly.
There were similarities to their first half against the Rebels a month ago.
This time around, however, they had a mountain of possession and remained dogged in defence.
Penalties to both sides saw the score dawdle at 6-3 throughout the first half.
Thirty-five years ago NSW beat Queensland 7-6 in a scrappy affair and it looked like something similar was transpiring at the same venue.
NSW went close to scoring on two occasions in the opening half – through Naiyaravoro and Foley – before Jake Gordon chalked up the first five-pointer of the evening.
Michael Wells made a clever break down the right edge and threw a nice pass to Gordon, who scored his fourth try of the year from six matches.
A Queensland penalty in the 40th minute from James Tuttle saw the visitors go into the break trailing 13-6 but certainly knowing they had limited the damage, for the time being.
Samu Kerevi was the Reds' best, charging at the Waratahs line with little regard for his safety and eking out metres with his leg drive.
Naiyaravoro's first try came off the back of a shocking – and perhaps even forward – pass from Reds number 10 Jono Lance.
The Flying Fijian dashed 60 metres untouched to plant the ball over the line and give the Waratahs a 20-9 lead after Foley’s conversion.
Paddy Ryan, in his 100th game for NSW, showed good impact off the bench. In a humorous moment earlier in the match, Waratahs squad member Tolu Latu was shown putting up a cut-out mask of Ryan in front of his face.
The replacement prop could barely hide his amusement as he sat on a plastic chair on the sideline.
Alongside Latu was Israel Folau.
He hid from the cameras on Tuesday before his meeting with Rugby Australia but was spotted in his suit, sharing a laugh with teammates.
Meanwhile, Wells came off midway through the second half and looked to be nursing a shoulder injury.
It was the first time the number eight had not been on the field for NSW this season.
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