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NSW Waratahs on brink of wooden spoon as Moana Pasifika pile on more misery
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NSW Waratahs on brink of wooden spoon as Moana Pasifika pile on more misery

Ten years after NSW Waratahs won the Super Rugby title and brought glory back to Australian rugby, the Tahs’ dismal 2024 season has been dealt its death blow with a 27-12 mauling by Moana Pasifika in Auckland.

The defeat – NSW’s eleventh from 13 games this season – ensures Australia’s biggest rugby province will stay anchored to the bottom of the Super Rugby Pacific ladder. Next week’s clash against Queensland Reds at Allianz Stadium will be their final chance to salvage some pride from a hellish season of injury and disarray.

This was supposed to be a year of celebration saluting the 150th anniversary of NSW Rugby. Instead, 16 frontline players have been injured (13 of them ruled out for the season) and the campaign will end in ignominy as the Waratahs take out the wooden spoon and search for a new coach capable of ending a 10-year title drought.

Embattled coach Darren Coleman – whose bid for a renewed contract was officially ended this week – watched on as his side put in another lamentable showing with dropped balls and fumbled opportunities leaving them 27-0 down before a late flurry of tries put some consolation into the scoreline.

Hunting just their third win of the year, the Waratahs butchered a try in the fifth minute when captain Jake Gordon knocked on in the leadup to winger Dylan Pietsch diving into the corner. They then received a stroke of luck when a 7-0 deficit seemed imminent, Pasifika winger Neria Fomai injuring his hamstring with the line open.

Moana were not to be denied though and soon broke the deadlock through Tongan star Kyren Taumoefolau who cut through the thin blue line for the first five-pointer. Six minutes later, having forced a turnover, Taumoefolau was in the action again, a smart pass putting Fine Inisi over the stripe for Pasifika to lead 14-0 at half-time.

Last week, as the Waratahs were coughing up 27 unanswered points in their 27-7 defeat at the hands of the Western Force, Moana Pasifika were pushing ladder leaders Hurricanes in Wellington. That same zeal was evident again as Tana Umaga’s side won back the second half kickoff and Julian Savea put Inisi over for his double.

After William Havili kicked a penalty to extend the lead to 22-0, it was a former Waratah who delivered the knockout blow. Sydney-born Pasifika captain Sekope Kepu – a 110-Test Wallaby and key cog in Cheika’s 2014 title-winning side – crossed in his final home game, having this week announced his retirement after 19 torrid seasons.

At 27-0 and with 20 minutes to play in a season going nowhere, the Waratahs might’ve curled up their toes. Instead they dug deep. Flanker Langi Gleeson crashed over before Tahs wingers Izaia Perese and Pietsch combined to go length-of-the-field.

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But there was to be no blue sky finish for the men in sky blue. The scoreboard stalled there and the siren sounded on back-to-back defeats to former minnows Moana who continue to improve, having notched three more victories than in 2023.

As for the Tahs, the season can’t end soon enough. For even the most loyal of NSW rugby fans, that blood red Waratah badge is starting to look like a hole in the heart.

Source: theguardian.com