CAPE TOWN: The Waratahs smashed the Indian Ocean hoodoo with a commanding 22-11 win over the Stormers at Newlands Stadium on Saturday.
It took until the final two games of round eight for a team in the competition to win after crossing the Indian Ocean. The Waratahs used set piece dominance and a perfect round of goal kicking to stretch the Stormers' miserable run to five straight losses immediately after the Crusaders, too, had notched up a win in Johannesburg over the Lions.
Even reigning two-time champions the Chiefs, in South Africa at the same time as the Waratahs, managed two draws - a feat in itself - against the Bulls and Cheetahs.
Rugged defence: Waratahs fullback Kurtley Beale stops Stormers winger Sailosi Tagicakiba. Photo: Getty Images
The win moves NSW to equal-top of the Australian conference ladder alongside the Brumbies and sets up a fascinating duel with the in-form Force in Perth next weekend.
The Waratahs escaped a shaky start to score a try in the 14th minute and build a slow but steady lead on the scoreboard with excellent goal kicking performances from both Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale.
A magnificent midfield snipe from Stormers centre Juan de Jongh set up the home side's only try but two missed kicks from five-eighth Peter Grant robbed them of an edge on the scoreboard.
Waratahs captain Dave Dennis competes for a lineout ball against Stormers second-rower Michael Rhodes. Photo: Getty Images
As the match wore on the Waratahs used an embarrassment of possession and a magnificent scrum to score another 15 points in penalty kicks to the Stormers' three.
After last week's damaging 19-9 penalty count against the Sharks, the Waratahs reined in some early ill-discipline to register a more balanced 15 penalties to the Stormers' 11.
The NSW forwards guided the side through a second brutal South African encounter, with Michael Hooper immense in defence and handy in attack early on.
Charging bull: Benn Robinson bends the Stormers defensive line. Photo: Getty Images
Playmakers Beale and Foley and halfback Phipps recovered from a ropey start to orchestrate a much more assured attacking game than their Durban effort. Beale proved he could fire amply without his attacking partner Israel Folau.
The Stormers' trademark defence survived two early attacking raids and a penalty against Phipps for not releasing gave the Stormers a chance to attack. They launched a raid into the Waratahs' 22 and a second penalty gave five-eighth Peter Grant a shot at goal. The Stormers led 3-0.
The halfback redeemed himself minutes later, snatching the ball as it came awkwardly off captain Duane Vermeulen's leg and out of the scrum and grounding it with an outstretched arm.
Foley converted to put the Waratahs in the lead 7-3 with 15 minutes gone.
The Waratahs have battled with their clearance kicks all season and it cost them in tricky conditions at Newlands.
Foley failed to find touch in the 19th minute and Beale found his attempt on the left side be blown back on the breeze, leading to a Stormers' line out near the 10 metre line.
They scored off the set piece, form centre Juan de Jongh slicing through the Waratahs mid-field defence and handing it to winger Kobus van Wyk to score. Grant missed the conversion confining the Stormers to one point in front, 8-7.
The Waratahs attacked but for a second week in a row looked shaky at times with ball in hand in what was again a brutal contact zone. They regathered to patiently build the phases and came away with a penalty goal in the 35th minute, going into the sheds 10-8 leaders.
The visitors opened the second half quickly and assertively, punching into the Stormers' 22 thanks to an unlikely break from Robinson.
But a ruck infringement call centimetres from the try line against Will Skelton, at which Micahel Cheika was captured on camera laughing incredulously, snuffed out the chance.
Encouragingly, they did not leave Stormers' territory empty-handed, fullback Kurtley Beale booting a long range penalty goal in the 47th minute to widen the gap to five points.
NSW looked to have lost Alofa Alofa two minutes later after the winger landed awkwardly in a tackle by Grant.
But he made it to his feet, shooed away medical staff and played on. He would eventually concede, subbing off for Matt Carraro in in the 52nd minute.
There was a rare victory for the Waratahs' scrum, maligned and penalised for most of this season, when the whistle was blown in their favour in the 50th mintue. Foley nailed the ensuing penalty kick to put NSW ahead 16-8.
The Stormers showed glimpses of power in attack. De Jongh was unlucky not to ground the ball in the 56th minute after an extended period of pick and drive on the Waratahs' try line.
But Hooper and Adam Ashley-Cooper were immense in defence, the former pulling up the centre just shy of the line and the latter placing his arm between the ball and five points.
Grant made the most of the penalty advantage, however, narrowing the Waratahs' lead to five points with 20 minutes still left to play.
The NSW scrum was rewarded with another penalty again within kicking range and Beale took the shot from 45 metres out, booting the visitors eight points clear again.
Foley followed up in the 68th minute and the Waratahs survived the next 10 minutes, losing Phipps to the sin bin at the death, with the game already won.
The Waratahs fly to Perth on Sunday to face the surprise packet of the Australian season, the Force.
While the Rebels attracted much of the early season hype, the Force quietly put together four wins in a row, a feat only bettered in Australia by conference leaders the Brumbies.
NSW WARATAHS 22 (Nick Phipps try Bernard Foley con Foley 3, Kurtley Beale 2 pens) bt STORMERS 11 (Kobus van Wyk try Peter Grant 2 pens) at Newlands Rugby Stadium. Referee: Glen Jackson. Crowd: 25,284.