Waratahs rue wasted opportunity
NSW coach Daryl Gibson blasted his Waratahs players for looking ahead to the finals after they were soundly beaten 40-31 by the Brumbies in their final round match in Sydney on Saturday night.
Having already secured a home quarter-final by winning the Australian conference last week, NSW blundered their way to defeat against a powerhouse Brumbies side showing skill and power lacking for most of the season.
Furious NSW coach Gibson said his side had "soft efforts" and was mentally cruising into the playoff match rather than concentrating on their Canberra foes.
"What you saw tonight was a team that was not focused on the job at hand, and getting ahead of itself in terms of already being in next week," Gibson said.
"As a coach it's disappointing because that's my responsibility, to make sure we're focusing on the job at hand."
The Brumbies were already aware before kick-off that they could no longer make the finals after the Melbourne Rebels had secured a bonus point in their loss to the Highlanders earlier in the day.
The ACT side played with freedom and flair, while NSW seemed debilitated by their circumstance.
The loss at Allianz Stadium meant they did not know if they finished second or third, and whether they'd face the ominous Highlanders team from New Zealand or one of the African conference sides until the early hours of Sunday morning when other games had finished.
Injured skipper Michael Hooper will not recover from his hamstring injury in time for the quarter at Allianz Stadium.
"Hoops wasn't the factor tonight, the referee wasn't the factor tonight, the factor tonight was 15 men not turning up ready to be urgent, display that attitude and effort that has been very good this year, tonight it just wasn't," Gibson said.
"There were some soft efforts there [in defence], we'll have to look at the tape and be disappointed with some of the effort there, particularly in the tackle and then post the tackle in terms of our urgency to find our line again.
"Plenty to work on, but I think a lot of that work is between our ears."
This was a wasted opportunity and the match exposed concerning weaknesses in the NSW team.
The Brumbies dominated collisions, went through their midfield defence, forced scrum penalties and lineout turnovers, and controlled the ball better.
These are all of the key areas that playoff games are won and lost.
Brumbies centre Kyle Godwin scored one of the best individual tries of the season in the 48th minute.
The Ireland-bound centre took the ball in his own half, stepped inside Nick Phipps and Kurtley Beale to break clear in midfield, chipped over Israel Folau, regathered the bouncing ball and dived over the line to give his side a 33-10 lead.
Taqele Naiyaravoro became just the fourth man in Super Rugby history to score 15 tries in one season, following Joe Roff, Rico Gear and Ngani Laumape, when he crossed in the 52nd minute.
Will Miller's 50-metre intercept try in the 73rd minute brought the score back to 33-22, giving Tahs fans an inklin of hope.
But moments later Tevita Kuridrani made a break, put a chip over the top of Folau and replacement winger Lausii Taliauli grabbed the bouncing ball and raced away to seal victory for the Brumbies despite a try on the siren to Tahs replacement Brad Wilkin.
It took just three minutes for the Brumbies to cross, when Tom Banks scooped up a loose pass from Curtis Rona near his own line and sprinted 90 metres for a try.
Bernard Foley put his side on the board in the 10th with a penalty, but the Brumbies were 21-3 in front by the 20th minute after two impressive tries through the middle of NSW's defence.
First Ritchie Arnold crossed after interplay between Christian Lealiifano, Joe Powell and Nic Mayhew set free the big lock.
Then No.8 Isi Naisarani swan-dived under the posts after being set up by Arnold.
Brumbies hooker Folau Faingaa was sin-binned in the 26th minute for killing the ball after a Tahs rolling maul was pulled short of the line.
NSW finally took advantage of their extra man when Ned Hanigan took a pick-and-go from a ruck and offloaded to hooker Damien Fitzpatrick who scored the try in the 32nd minute.
But poor defence by the Tahs allowed Brumbies winger Andrew Muirhead to race 50 metres to score just moments later.
A clearing kick was taken by Banks, who found Muirhead out wide. The speedster cut through Rob Simmons and Nick Phipps and outpaced the covering Folau to score an outstanding try.
The visitors held their 26-10 lead at the break.
Winger Henry Speight played strongly until he was sidelined with a leg injury shortly before halftime, while Naisarani also hobbled off before the break.
BRUMBIES 40 (Richie Arnold, Tom Banks, Kyle Godwin, Andrew Muirhead, Isireli Naisarani, Lausii Taliauli tries Christian Leali'ifano 4, Wharenui Hawera cons) NSW WARATAHS 31 (Damien Fitzpatrick, Will Miller, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Brad Wilkin tries Bernard Foley 4 cons pen) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Angus Gardner