WARATAHS 12 HURRICANES 33
Drew Mitchell of the Waratahs makes a break. Photo: Getty Images
MICHAEL FOLEY will face fresh scrutiny following the Waratahs’ sixth straight loss in front of a dwindling home crowd in Sydney last night. The Waratahs failed once more to learn the crucial lessons from their nine previous losses this season and allowed the Hurricanes to walk all over them, four tries to none, in a joyless 21-point loss filled with opportunities but precious few points.
It was their 10th loss in 14 rounds and gave the past week’s admissions of failure and plaintive appeals for home-town support – sincere as they were – a hollow quality.
Sarel Pretorius of the Waratahs struggled in the slippery conditions. Photo: Getty Images
No one thought it would be this bad. As challenged as the squad was early on in the season, with the loss through injury of so much experience and Test-hardened talent, there have been 10 games now since the Waratahs’ self-described breakthrough win over the Sharks at Allianz Stadium at the end of March.
That’s 10 opportunities to consolidate and improve on elements of a winning formula, 10 opportunities for combinations to click and 10 opportunities to get on the right side of those one-, three- and seven-point margins that have plagued them.
Foley said it was clear the squad needed ‘‘to change a few things’’ before the final two games of the season in a month. But he appealed for his own players as well as outside observers to take a medium-term view on his side’s success or otherwise.
Berrick Barnes of the Waratahs passes as he is tackled. Photo: Getty Images
‘‘I think it’s important for the players to keep focused and to keep fighting,’’ Foley said.
‘‘It’s a very, very disappointing season for everyone but out of that you can learn things and I think a team exists and has a life outside of one season and that’s a very, very important thing [to recognise] for us to be able to shed the baggage and to grow from here on in.’’
The Waratahs need to work out exactly what is going wrong. Foley said he believed the pressure of mounting losses and public scrutiny might have affected the squad but both he and captain Benn Robinson said it was hard to pinpoint the cause of last night’s failure.
‘‘It’s hard to discern at times whether we’re making the errors on the back of the pressure coming into the games, the pressure that’s built in the game or is it just a skill issue,’’ Foley said. ‘‘I think in many instances it’s not just a skill issue but it’s probably a mentality issue and I think we can work on those things, as we can with skill. It’s just harder to identify those things because they don’t necessarily present as obviously.’’
This was an embarrassing, wet, error-ridden display in which the Waratahs maul – so often a point of pride this season – was continually driven metres back.
The points went the Waratahs’ way early on, with three successful penalty goals to five-eighth Berrick Barnes keeping the home side within four points of the Hurricanes at the break. A try to Hurricanes winger Julian Savea with seven minutes to go was the only first-half five-pointer.
While the Hurricanes piled on three second-half tries, the Waratahs settled for a single penalty goal. The ball was slippery in both sides’ hands but only the Hurricanes overcame that challenge. It became a familiar, agonising pattern for the Tahs. Gain metres, lose possession. On contact or, so often, off slippery hands.
The Waratahs’ pride, talked up all week, was muddied, bruised and flattened into the ground with tries to replacement hooker Motu Matu’u, captain Conrad Smith and Chris Eaton, his bonus-point fourth try right on the bell pouring salt into a gaping wound.
HURRICANES 33 (Chris Eaton, Motu Matu'u, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith tries Beauden Barrett 2 cons 3 pens) bt NSW WARATAHS 12 (Berrick Barnes 4 pens) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Bryce Lawrence. Crowd: 13,372.