No Israel Folau, no problem for NSW Waratahs in Super Rugby
SYDNEY (AP) — The New South Wales Waratahs' first Super Rugby match without suspended fullback Israel Folau turned into an impressive victory.
The Waratahs overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit Saturday and held Melbourne scoreless over the final 40 minutes to register a 23-20 victory in their eighth game in this season's competition, moving them within four points of the first-place Rebels in the Australian conference.
Folau was suspended last week and is awaiting a code of conduct hearing which will decide his future. Rugby Australia has said it intends to sever its contract with the 30-year-old test veteran over his anti-gay social media comments.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley scored a try and kicked two conversions and three penalties to account for all 16 New South Wales points in the second half.
Kurtley Beale, who replaced Folau at fullback, had a strong kicking game while Foley outplayed his opposite No. 10 Quade Cooper.
"We knew if we stuck to our game plan and sharpened up in our penalties we were a real shot," said Waratahs captain Michael Hooper, who played his 100th match for the team.
"That bloke has so much ticker," Hooper said of Foley. "He rises to the challenge when he gets put under the pump. He had a great game and led us so well."
Earlier Saturday, a second-half penalty try helped lift the Highlanders to a 24-12 win over the Blues in a New Zealand derby.
The Blues' 33-26 victory over the Highlanders in round six was, and remains, their first and only win over a New Zealand opponent in three years. Their subsequent match in the New Zealand conference resulted in a narrow loss to the Hamilton-based Chiefs.
Buoyed by wins over the Waratahs and South Africa's Stormers, the Blues entered Saturday's match as favorites but the Highlanders' strong second half called into question their touted revival.
A huge scrum surge in the 50th minute brought the Highlanders a penalty try which made their lead comfortable and it became decisive with a 40-meter intercept touchdown by Matt Faddes six minutes later.
"I'm just glad we stuck to what we've been practising all week and put it out there on the field," Highlanders captain Ben Smith said. "These New Zealand games are always tough."
On Friday, the New Zealand-based Hurricanes avoided a surprise loss to the Japan-based Sunwolves by scoring 22 unanswered points.
The Hurricanes came back from 23-7 down in Tokyo to win 29-23 and close the gap on New Zealand conference, and overall, leaders the Crusaders to seven points.
The Crusaders, the defending champions, had a bye weekend.
The Lions of South Africa, finalists for the last three seasons, pulled out of a midseason slump to edge the Chiefs 23-17 after being 20-0 up in New Zealand. The Queensland Reds beat the Sharks 21-14, the Reds' first win in South Africa in four years and the first in Durban over the Sharks in 15 years.