Michael Hooper made a triumphant return in NSW Waratahs colours, scoring a try as his team ran out 38-14 victors over ill-disciplined Fijian Drua on Friday night.
The Waratahs weren’t clinical but didn’t need to be, running in three tries in each half against physical, inaccurate, fumbling opponents.
“You can’t win games of footy win you give away red cards, yellow cards and penalties,” Stan Sport caller Sam Wykes said.
“[Drua] showed some really good signs when they scored their [two] tries from turnovers. But that [lack of] discipline and the Waratahs patience was telling.”
“The Waratahs had a ruthless edge,” analyst Drew Mitchell added. “They didn’t allow the Drua to get back into it. They defended really well.
“That’s a big difference in their play from 2022 to 2021 – they’re united as a unit in defence. And that’s really important when you’re coming up against a team that thrives on unstructured rugby like Fijian Drua.
“They were methodical with the ball and ended up blowing the Drua away.”
Following the Drua’s ‘Na Bole’ war dance, the Waratahs ran out onto a CBUS Super Stadium empty on three sides and with Hooper on the bench for the first time in 121 starts.
Early doors and Drua had endeavour, tidy short lineouts, and turnovers. The Waratahs were better. Turnovers, yes, but less of them.
“It’s a matter of getting those combinations right, that timing,” Sam Wykes said. “Hopefully it will improve throughout the game.”
It did – for NSW, anyway.
From a rolling maul 55 metres out on the right hand side, the Waratahs sent the ball through several hands before a grubber by fullback Alex Newsome bounced for Dylan Pietsch who scored his first Super Rugby try in the left corner.
Tane Edmed thumped over the conversion, an exclamation point on a starburst.
Drua hit back when their No.10 Teti Tela picked up a fumbled ball mid-field and found a very good man in the circumstances: Vinaya ‘The Flier’ Habosi, who scorched away down the left, burning Will Harris like a greyhound being pursued by Hulk Hogan.
The Waratahs earned several penalties, one of which saw Drua captain Nemani Nagusa sent off for a high, late shot on Edmed. The No.8 was brought up in Fiji believing the style of defence was “playing rugby”. But not today, not in the pro leagues, and red card was justified.
Charlie Gamble, sporting a moustache that Merv Hughes would think extreme, plundered a try from a rolling maul, followed by many replays as the TMO searched fruitlessly for obstruction.
Minutes later Dave Porecki tossed the ball into a 5-metre lineout and got onto the back of another rolling maul and scored. Newsome hooked the conversion for a half-time score of 17-7.
The second half began with Drua halfback Frank Lomani leaping into the air to take Gamble around the neck, a crazy play for which he was expelled for 10 minutes.
With Lomani barely off the field Jed Holloway barged over through soft Drua shoulders.
Holloway turned provider with a peach of a ball off his hip for Edmed who burst through and found Hooper who went over under the posts for his first Super try since 2019.
As a big man in the crowd played a very small ukulele, Drua brought on No.19 Viliame Rarasea and No.20 Vilive Miramira who ran hard before No.21 Rusiate Nasove scored with his first touch.
Any sniff of a comeback was quashed when Mark Nawaqanitawase scored on the right after a fine charge from the back of the scrum by replacement No.8 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco.