New South Wales Waratahs maintained their status as Australia’s best Super 14 side by booking a spot in the semi-finals with a solid 32-16 defeat of the Hurricanes at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night.
Victory would have extended the season for both sides but it was the Waratahs who progressed to their fourth finals appearance in the last six years by staying undefeated at their Sydney fortress in 2010.
The bonus-point win takes the Tahs into second but they are likely to slip back a place with the third-placed Stormers favourites to defeat an understrength Bulls side to steal the home semi-final.
The hosts endured a frustrating first half where they dominated possession but could not find the tryline until a piece of solo brilliance by Kurtley Beale handed the Tahs the five-pointer they so desperately needed after 16 minutes.
The trend continued for another 15 minutes before Drew Mitchell crossed to give NSW a 18-9 half-time lead.
Man-of-the-match Mitchell was on hand after the restart to put the game well in the Waratahs’ keeping when he crossed six minutes into the second half before Beale grabbed his second five minutes later with another chip and chase.
Lachlan Turner was sin-binned after the hour mark and David Smith picked up a try late for the Hurricanes, whose late tilt to the finals came to a disappointing end.
Waratahs captain Phil Waugh was happy with his side’s effort but was still a harsh marker of their second-half performance.
“We kept them try-less in the first half, it would have been nice to keep them from scoring at the death, but we did the hard work and the boys hung in well,” he said post-match.
“The last 20-25 minutes was reasonably disappointing, going into next week we need a lot of hard work.”
“The back three were exceptional, when you have those guys running around the way the do, Kurtley chiming in in the backline and making things happen.
“It’s good to be in a forward pack behind that.”
Fly half Berrick Barnes, going into his first Super finals series after moving from the Reds last season, in turn credited his determined forward pack for setting the platform for his team-mates in the backline.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries, especially of late, and blokes keep putting their hands up and getting us the ball we need and some of our outside backs at the moment are on fire,” he said.
“It’s exciting, we’ll gather tomorrow night and watch the game as a team and it’s exciting to know you’re still going to be around next week.”
Hurricanes skipper Rodney So’oliola admitted his side left their run too late and could not produce when it mattered.
“We’ve absorbed a lot of pressure the last few weeks, tonight the Waratahs really took it to us,” he said.
“It’s pretty hard to absorb that for 80 minutes and obviously we got exploited there.”
Waratahs: 32 (K Beale 2, D Mitchell 2 tries; B Barnes 3 conversions, 2 penalties)
Hurricanes: 16 (D Smith try; P Weepu converion, 3 penalties)