Rugby – Super 15: The Tah’s are Blooming.

New South Wales v Canterbury

Super 15 Rugby

7:30pm 23rd May 2015

Stadium Australia, Homebush Bay.

 

Australian sport rarely sells out regular season matches. Tune into the NFL, Basketball, Ice Hockey or Baseball from America, there is rarely a spare seat in the house, from opening day to the final match. Same for the English Premier League, La Liga or Serie A.  Why don’t our sports fans come out with the same passion and numbers? Even the famed AFL attendances have dramatically fallen away in the past decade.

Other than standalone ANZAC day clashes, there’s never a sell out in any code.

This stadium has hosted Preliminary Finals for both the NRL and AFL, but they’ve never seen the “house full” sign go up.

NRL Grand Finals, Bledisloe and World Cup qualifiers have all been played to a full house here. The mass of humanity celebrating the contest have created memories which will stand the test of time.  But when there’s less than 40,000 people here, there’s more empty seats than occupied seats and the sounds of the crowd that is there seems to get lost in those spaces. This same problem affects every stadium which holds more than 80,000 people.

As such we hear the naysayers constantly criticise this venue for lacking atmosphere. These charges come from the same people who said the stadium would become yet another white elephant once the Olympic Flame was extinguished less than 15 years ago.

A white elephant it is not. The list of “coming events” is just boggling. Tonight we have the two most successful provincial teams in the history of Rugby. Four days later it’s game one of the greatest rugby league series, the State of Origin. Three days after that Tottenham Hotspur and another three days later the newly crowned Premier League Champions, Chelsea, will play Sydney FC in the same stadium Cathy Freeman won her only Gold Medal.

Yet people still bitch this place has “no atmosphere.” What more could be done to satisfy people?

Israel Falou has played AFL, Bledisloe, State of Origin and done victory laps with the NRL and Super Rugby trophies in this stadium.

When these two teams last met at this venue, it was the Final of the 2014 Super Rugby competition, they drew a crowd of 61,823. The biggest attendance of any game in the competition all year. However, it still meant the game was played in a stadium only three quarters full.

There’s a lot less here tonight, but instead of playing for the championship, tonight both teams are playing for survival. New South Wales need to win to regain the lead of the Australian conference, while Canterbury are running the risk of losing touch with the top six.

Canterbury force an error from the kick off, quickly gaining possession and within two minutes their 125 kilo winger Nemani Nadolo (yes the winger weighs more than the props) crashing over in the left hand corner for the early lead.

It doesn’t take long for New South Wales to respond and after drawing in the defence down the left side of the field, they pass it wide to the right and the Waratahs’ 124 kilo winger (why aren’t these guys in the pigs?) Taqele Naiyaravoro touches down in the right hand corner.  Bernard Foley kicks true and the Tahs lead 7 to 5.

A penalty to Canterbury within range is kicked by Dan Carter and Crusaders resume the lead 7 to 8.

NSW hooker Tolu Latu is sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes for lifting a Canterbury player in a tackle.  The Tahs do a good job of retaining possession and earn a penalty, which is kicked by Bernard Foley and NSW regain the lead 10 to 8.

Canterbury are trying to take advantage of their temporary extra man, however in trying to spread the ball to the right they drop it and Rob Horne scoops it up and sprints away to score a try, converted by Foley and the Tahs hold a surprising lead of 17 to 8.

Back to 15 men and they hold that lead to the half time break.

The Tahs start to dominate possession in the second half and in the 52nd minute they run it right again and the big winger, Taqele Naiyaravoro, can’t be stopped from a short run to score his second try.  The conversion is missed and the Tahs lead is now 25 to 8.

Falou has a kick from the in goal charged down, but for some reason the referee gives Canterbury a 5 metre scrum.  It should be a 22 metre drop kick, but from the scrum Canterbury run a play and Richie McCaw scores under the posts.  Carter converts and now there’s only 10 points in it with half an hour to go.

The referee is doing all he can to get Canterbury back in the game, stopping play twice to ask the video referee to check on some alleged rough play off the ball. On both occasions there was nothing in it, but the whistle blower has clearly got Will Skelton in the cross hairs.

The weight of possession being given to the Crusaders is starting to tell and a rolling maul gets over the line. There’s no way of seeing if the ball has been grounded, but the referee gets down on his hands and knees and then makes a dramatic signal to award the try. The conversion by Carter from the sideline sneaks inside the post and suddenly it’s a three point game with 14 minutes to play.

New South Wales finally have some possession deep into Canterbury’s territory and after another collapsed maul the referee gives a penalty to the Tah’s, but more importantly he has sent Richie McCaw to the sin bin for cynically breaking down the play. Canterbury will play the last 10 minutes one man short.

From a midfield scrum Bernard Foley puts in an old fashioned chip and chase, beats the oncoming fullback and gets a second kick to the ball. He wins the chase to the ball and slides across the tryline and that’s the bonus point fourth try. He converts and the full time score the Tah’s win 32 to 22.

The crowd have been on the edge of their seats for most of the match celebrate a hard fought and very entertaining win from the home side. Without doubt their most polished performance of the season, which is the sort of form they need as they fly out for a two week tour of South Africa.

There’s a buzz around this stadium right now. Should have brought a sleeping bag and set up camp for the next fortnight. For now, it’s into the bar to watch the final quarter of the other Grand Final replay between the Swans and Hawthorn.

About Wayne Ball

Tragic fan of the Australian and NSW cricket teams (for those of you outside NSW, there is a difference, despite what David Hookes said). Not a fan of T20. Penrith Panthers are the only club of decency and all which is good in Rugby League, the Waratah's were once the national team of Rugby Union, the first non Victorian team in the VFL/AFL is the Sydney Swans, and they all enjoy my passionate support. Sings for Wanderers. Internationally, I have been to see the Oakland Athletics and Green Bay Packers play. One day, I'll see Norwich City play for the FA Cup at Wembley.

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