The Rebels fought right to the death and won a penalty with 10 seconds remaining right on the Waratahs line.
Enter Michael Hooper’s replacement at No.7, Will Miller. He managed a turnover to seal the win for NSW, but it was his work all evening that highlighted what a precocious back-rower he is.
There was overzealous attempt to win a turnover that resulted in the Rebels getting a penalty in front of the sticks to go up 3-0. However, Miller picked his moment better in the 28th minute to earn a penalty on the NSW line to get his team out of jail.
Given the circumstances, Daryl Gibson will be happy to get out of Melbourne. Folau’s judicial hearing did not finish until 11pm on Thursday evening, meaning there was every chance Bryce Hegarty woke up in Melbourne unaware if he was starting at fullback or not.
As much as the Waratahs will deny it, the Folau sideshow would have had some effect on preparations.
Similarly, the Rebels were dealt injury blows. With Will Genia and Adam Coleman already missing, Marika Koroibete was ruled out minutes before kick-off with a back injury.
There was some conjecture as to whether Koroibete hurt it at training on Wednesday or perhaps in the warm-up. Nonetheless, it compounded their woes.
Cam Clark bombed a chance to regain the lead in the 16th minute by knocking on in the corner but it mattered little as Taqele Naiyaravoro scored his 12th try for the season two minutes later.
When Clark thudded into the turf he was mildly concussed and was unable to return to the field, and Alex Newsome took his spot on the wing.
A Foley penalty put the Waratahs ahead by seven but that lead evaporated soon after thanks to a pinpoint pass that put Dane Haylett-Petty into a hole off the back of a clever decoy run from Jack Maddocks.
The coach killer for Dave Wessels came in the 39th minute and gave the Waratahs a 17-10 lead at half-time when Miller dived over for his second try of the year. It was an excellent team try that undid the Rebels’ good work of the first 40 minutes.
The home side responded early in the second half. A try to Michael Ruru and a Reece Hodge penalty gave the Rebels a 20-17 lead.
There was more TMO madness when Bernard Foley was penalised for a high shot on Anaru Rangi. Despite the man slipping and the play moving on, the TMO brought back the incident and NSW were made to pay as Hodge kicked another three-pointer to put his side ahead 26-17.
Tom Decent is a journalist with Fairfax Media.
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