BERRY’S Will Miller and his NSW Waratahs blew a perfect chance to down the Hurricanes at home in their opening game of the season, falling one point behind at 19-20.
Bernard Foley missed a relatively easy penalty in the penultimate minute after two late disallowed tries to the visitors, including one for a silly elbow from Hurricanes reserve Du’Plessis Kirifi to the throat of Michael Hooper
A brilliant tackle from the Waratahs captain and Curtis Rona to put Ben Lam into touch denied a second that kept NSW ahead by six points at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.
However, that man Kirifi made up for his earlier blemish by crossing in the 75th minute to put the Hurricanes ahead 20-19, but it was not yet over. A reserve Waratahs front row of Rory O’Connor, Tolu Latu and Chris Talakai earned a potentially match-defining scrum penalty two minutes from full-time.
Foley, who had nailed all five of his kicks earlier in the match, pulled an attempt just left of the posts that would have seen the Waratahs clinch their first win over the Hurricanes since 2015.
"We had a shot to win it [and] it was disappointing we didn’t come away with the win," Foley said. "Into the wind it probably exaggerates if you have a fade or a draw [affecting ball flight].
"But it’s process driven, we’re not driven by outcomes. If given that shot again, [I will] back myself."
Hurricanes captain TJ Perenara said: "I was behind the sticks and it didn’t miss by much. I think Jordie [Barrett] might have been next to me and we were saying: ‘please pull it, please pull it’. Lucky enough he did. It’s not a position you want to be in late in the game where you’re hoping a goal-kicker like Bernard Foley misses a shot at goal."
After leading for the majority of the match, the one-point defeat will be a tough blow for the men in blue, who fell short in similar fashion in a 24-21 loss to the Auckland Blues at the same ground in May last year.
“We had an opportunity there to win it,” said Hooper on Fox Sports. “We were leading most of the game … it’s just discipline. We managed to stay in front there with little possession.”
Meanwhile, the Waratahs back line had its moments, with Karmichael Hunt, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Foley all impressing at various stages, but it was up front where Hurricanes took hold of the game with their dominance and mongrel.
"It’s never great to lose a close game, particularly when we had chances to win," said Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson. "I thought for large parts we controlled it well, right up until the Hurricanes went ahead.
"The positive for me is I’ve been asking for more fight from this team and I saw that."
There was an early milestone, with Foley surpassing Matt Burke (959) as the Waratahs’ highest ever point-scorer courtesy of an easy penalty. The early 3-0 lead evaporated minutes later though when Sekope Kepu was penalised for joining a ruck incorrectly. It was a bad game for the NSW prop who was penalised far too often.
A couple more penalties to Foley gave the home side a handy buffer and allowed the Waratahs to get rid of the early-season cobwebs. Back-line moves honed all summer came to fruition, rucks were hit with real ferocity and game awareness clicked into gear.
Discipline was an issue for players in both black and blue jerseys in the first half – in that order. Referee Angus Gardner blew a total of 14 penalties in the opening 40 minutes and 26 for the match.
"We were never really able to exert enough pressure on the Hurricanes," Gibson said.
With half-time approaching, a tiring NSW outfit conceded a penalty and the Hurricanes kicked for touch.
After a few pick-and-drives through the middle, back-rower Ardie Savea dived over for the only five-pointer of the first half but it was the Waratahs who led 12-10 at the break thanks to the accurate boot of Foley.
With Tom Robertson out for the best part of the season, loosehead prop Harry Johnson Holmes had his chance to step up in his first start at Super Rugby level.
The 21-year-old did just that in spades with an all-round performance highlighted by a subtle pick-and-drive that nearly led to a try, and a crucial penalty after making a big one-on-one tackle.
Rona chalked up the Waratahs’ only try of the evening down the left edge after receiving a bullet pass from Folau, in a move that began with a ‘hot potato’ knock-across from second-rower Jed Holloway - who had an excellent game, himself.
Seldom have the Waratahs enjoyed a nine-point, second-half advantage against a Kiwi team in recent years and they played with freedom and an attacking mindset.
Though despite the scoreboard gap, the margins were fine in this game. If a chip over the top to Hurricanes winger Wes Goosen went to hand, he would have almost certainly scored and given his team a chance of taking the lead.
Waratahs officials were able to breathe a sigh of relief, however, as all players got through the game unscathed following reports Manly and Cronulla had moved their NRL trial match from the venue next week because of concerns the surface would not be able to withstand two games in the space of two weeks.
Imagine the scenario: Hooper, ACL, out of the World Cup - because of an average surface.
In the end, there were no serious injuries in front of a strong crowd of 17,111 that crammed in to get a first dose of live Super Rugby action for the season.
There was enough about this Waratahs outfit for fans to get enthused about. Yes, there was no Beauden Barrett and NSW did find a way to lose but it was far from the one-sided affair many thought it would be.
"There will be some positives and negatives but you come away from that [thinking] you know what … we’ve got some good signs there," Gibson said.
Ashley-Cooper and Kepu will be monitored through the week for knocks, while Kurtley Beale is tipped to return for the side's next match against the Sunwolves.