MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The New South Wales Waratahs defended grimly to claim an attritional 20-15 win away to the Melbourne Rebels on Friday and keep their slim hopes of reaching the Super Rugby playoffs alive.
Centre Adam Ashley-Cooper and winger Curtis Rona scored the tries for the Waratahs, who held firm as the Rebels spent much of the second half camped deep in their territory.
Despite the loss, the Rebels grabbed a bonus point to move to top spot of the Australian conference but can be overhauled by the ACT Brumbies on Saturday when they play the Sunwolves.
The Rebels pulled within five points after Will Genia scored their second try in the 59th minute but the home side ended up frustrated on a damp night at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
“It was always going to be a grind with the conditions,” Waratahs captain Michael Hooper said.
“But some big plays there … It was a really quality game from both teams.
“Our playmakers controlled our game really well.”
The Waratahs held a 13-3 lead at halftime, with flyhalf Bernard Foley instrumental in the visitors’ bright start.
The incumbent Wallabies number 10 was criticised publicly by Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson on Thursday for his lacklustre performance in the previous week’s loss to the Jaguares, and he seemed eager to make amends.
He had a hand in the Waratahs’ first try in the sixth minute, setting off a chain of passes to Rona who shrugged a tackle and thundered down the left wing.
Foley followed him into the 22, received the ball inside and then whipped it wide to Ashley-Cooper who juggled the ball before planting it down in the sixth minute.
Foley converted the try and slotted two penalties to drive the Waratahs to a handy lead at the break as the indisciplined Rebels bombed two try chances.
The Rebels muscled their way back into the contest 10 minutes into the second half with a try to Quade Cooper, courtesy of a majestic off-load from captain Dane Haylett-Petty at the left corner.
Rona gave the Waratahs breathing space minutes later, booting the ball forward and collecting it over the line after Ashley-Cooper dragged the Rebels’ defence wide.
Scrumhalf Genia trimmed the lead again with his team’s second try but the Waratahs’ desperation in defence carried them home.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)