It was a night of firsts in Newcastle on Saturday night – but for all the wrong reasons.
Rob Penney’s men travelled up the Pacific Highway looking to avoid consecutive defeats for the first time in their 25-year history, instead their horrid run against the Blues continued as they went down 32-12 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Even though there were some encouraging signs coming from the Waratahs’ heavy loss to the Crusaders a week earlier, the Blues fixture in Newcastle always had a worrying feel about it.
The Blues would have been rubbing their hands together at the prospect of taking on the Waratahs in the wet – and so it proved, as the lacklustre effort matched the poor turnout.
The 7,491 was the lowest turnout for a home Waratahs fixture in their history.
And while the miserable conditions can partly explain that turnout, given the week of negative headlines around the game and the fact that Rugby Australia announced only a day earlier that Newcastle would host a Test for the first time since 2012 later in the year it was an ugly look for rugby in the country.
The Blues ran in five tries to the Waratahs’ two to seal the bonus-point victory.
But it was the Blues’ last two tries in the final three minutes of the game that would have angered Penney most.
Having been given a sniff by Mark Nawaqanitawase’s 61st minute try that saw the Waratahs cut the deficit to 20-12, the Waratahs fumbled their way through the final quarter of the match and then were embarrassingly overran out wide on their right-edge as Mark Telea became just the second Blue to score a hat-trick, following his first five-pointer earlier in the half.
The Waratahs have now conceded 11 tries from their opening two matches and new defence coach Phil Bailey, who took over from Steve Tandy earlier this year after the Welshman suddenly departed to join the Scotland national team, has his hands full teaching him home state how to tackle as they prepare for their vital match against the lowly Rebels in Melbourne next Friday night.
The Waratahs have now lost five straight matches against New Zealand’s bottom placed side of the past six years.
As England found out during last year’s World Cup final, if you can’t win your scrum it’s almost impossible to win in rugby and the Waratahs learnt those painful lessons early on.
The Blues’ scrum dominated the Waratahs for the majority of the match and that dominance was a big reason for their early scoreboard pressure.
Flanker Blake Gibson scored the opening try for the Blues, barging over out wide in the 11th minute.
The Waratahs missed the chance to get on the scoreboard soon after, as their Junior Wallabies playmaker Will Harrison missed a relatively straight forward penalty from 37 metres out.
That miss was a deflating blow, especially when Stephen Perofeta stepped up in the 26th minute to bang over a penalty and give the Blues an 8-0 lead.
Eventually the Waratahs’ pack won a scrum as the half-time hooter grew closer, and Lalakai Foketi made the most of the territory by scoring out wide after a long, patient build up on the Blues’ line. Harrison’s sideline conversion sliced the Blues’ lead to a point.
But the game was as good as gone five minutes into the second half as the Blues crossed twice through England-capped centre Joe Marchant, before Telea touched down for his first to give the visitors a 20-7 lead.
Another spectacular Nawaqanitawase finish saw the Waratahs score their second and give themselves a chance.
It was the Junior Wallaby’s third try in only his second match, but the 19-year-old was forced to leave the field after landing awkwardly on his left-shoulder as he dived to touchdown.
In good news though, the talented teen escaped injury and was seen in good spirits mingling with the crowd after the match.
Unfortunately for his team however, the Waratahs were caught napping out wide at the end and paid the ultimate price as the Blues blew them apart.
“No, I don’t think it had anything to do with energy, I don’t think we went out there and did what we said we were going to do which was a little bit disappointing,” Waratahs captain Rob Simmons said.
“We had a plan (of) how to take these guys on and we let their individuals come into the game.”
Asked what the Waratahs needed to do to turn their poor start to the season around, Simmons said time.
“We can only take it one week at a time. I know it sounds cliche, but we’re all learning, learning how to work this stuff out, so we’ll start again next week and see what happens.”
The Waratahs have six days to get it right, as they next travel down to Melbourne to take on the Rebels who are also winless from the opening two rounds of the competitions after defeats to the Sunwolves and Brumbies.
Waratahs – 12
Tries: Lalakai Foketi, Mark Nawaqanitawase
Conversion: Will Harrison
Blues – 32
Tries: Blake Gibson, Joe Marchant, Mark Tela (3)
Conversion: Stephen Perofeta (2)
Penalty: Stephen Perofeta
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachie Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Tepai Moeroa, 22 Mitch Short, 23 Jack Maddocks
Blues: 1.Karl Tu’inukuafe, 2.Kurt Eklund, 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 5.Josh Goodhue, 6.Dalton Papalii, 7.Blake Gibson, 8.Hoskins Sotutu, 9.Jonathan Ruru, 10.Stephen Perofeta, 11.Mark Telea, 12.TJ Faiane, 13.Joe Marchant, 14.Jordan Hyland, 15.Matt Duffie.
Replacements: 16.James Parsons, 17.Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18.Ofa Tuungafasi, 19.Tom Robinson, 20.Akira Ioane, 21.Sam Nock, 22.Harry Plummer, 23.Emoni Narawa.
Waratahs v Blues
@ McDonald Jones Stadium
Referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy (Australia), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)