NSW overcomes half-time deficit as key players injured on both sides.
The NSW Waratahs opened up the Super 15 title race with a fighting 28-22 win over leaders ACT Brumbies in a fierce Australian derby on Saturday that may have ramifications for the Wallabies.
The Waratahs fought back from 13-6 down at halftime to overhaul Jake White’s frontrunners with three second-half tries to keep alive their playoff hopes with their third straight win.
But both sides lost key Wallaby players with injuries with Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau suffering a fractured right forearm and veteran Brumbies flanker George Smith nursing an injured left knee.
It will concern coach Robbie Deans, who names his 25-man Wallaby squad on Sunday for next month’s three-Test series against the touring British and Irish Lions.
Playmaker Berrick Barnes proved influential coming off the bench at halftime to engineer the Waratahs’ victory with a try and having a hand in another while kicking two conversions and a penalty.
The win put the Waratahs eight points behind the Brumbies in the Australian conference, with the Brumbies only leading the Queensland Reds by two points in the conference with the Reds scheduled to face the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein later Saturday.
The Brumbies controlled the opening half with tries to skipper Ben Mowen and centre Tevita Kuridrani to hold a seven-point lead at the interval, but the Waratahs were a different proposition with Barnes calling the shots in the second half.
Barnes put flanker Michael Hooper over in the corner and then scored himself before winger Peter Betham beat two tackles to score the clinching try five minutes from fulltime.
It was the Brumbies’ second successive loss after going down 30-23 to the Canterbury Crusaders at home last start, while the Waratahs beat the Canberra-based side for the first time in their last four meetings.
But it was a horror night for Wallabies coach Deans watching from the stands as first Polota-Nau trudged from the field with his right arm cradled in his jersey just before halftime and then George Smith walked off midway through the second half.
Smith, who is on the verge of a remarkable comeback after playing the last of his 110 Tests four years ago, sat on the sidelines watching the remainder of the game with his left knee wrapped in an ice pack.
“That was really pleasing. We were off in a few areas, getting out of our own half and struggling in the lineouts, but to have that go on and still win the match is pleasing and we are developing a winning attitude,” Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis said.
“The Brumbies and us lost a few key players and that probably upset their rhythm a bit, but it was always going to be physical, so you are going to get those injuries.”
Brumbies skipper Mowen said Berrick Barnes was the difference after halftime.
“The game needed someone to grab it by the scruff of its neck and go on with it and Berrick did that superbly for the Waratahs,” Mowen said.
“He controlled things well in that period, put them on the front foot and scored a great individual try and Betham on the back of that closed it out with his try.”
The Brumbies cross the Tasman to face the Blues in Auckland next weekend, while the Waratahs are away to the Rebels in Melbourne.