SYDNEY - The New South Wales Waratahs clinched first place in Super Rugby’s Australian Conference in emphatic fashion on Saturday with a 77-25 win over the Sunwolves.
The win guaranteed the Waratahs a place in the playoffs beginning in two weeks, while the Sunwolves will finish in last place in the Australian Conference.
Israel Folau, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Alex Newsome scored two tries each for the Waratahs.
The Sunwolves (3-12) are still looking for their first Super Rugby win outside of Asia.
A tight first half that saw the lead change hands a number of times ended with Semisi Masirewa red carded for a dangerous tackle. The Sunwolves never recovered as the Waratahs scored eight second-half tries.
“The first 20 or 30 minutes we were right in it, got a few structures together and scored some nice tries,” Sunwolves flyhalf Hayden Parker said of the first-half effort. “But we struggled once we lost that man and after halftime things got tough.”
The Sunwolves opened the scoring with a ninth-minute penalty from Parker — his 36th straight successful kick, a Super Rugby record — only for the Waratahs to hit back straight away.
Sekope Kepu powered over a minute later and Bernard Foley added the extras from out wide to become just the 10th player to pass 900 points in the competition.
With Kazuki Himeno putting in some strong runs, the Sunwolves stayed in the contest, helped by a second penalty from Parker before they took the lead in sensational fashion.
A good turnover saw the ball in Parker’s hands and his kick ahead was brilliantly taken one-handed by Akihito Yamada who sprinted over for the try. Parker’s conversion made it 13-7 with 23 minutes gone.
But there was soon just one point in it when a flat pass from Kurtley Beale freed up Folau, who galloped over for the five-pointer.
Michael Leitch’s first try for the Sunwolves following some great work by his backs saw the visitors extend their lead as both sides looked to run the ball at every opportunity.
But once again the Waratahs hit back when a good counterattack was finished off by Beale in the 34th minute before the game turned in the home team’s favor.
Not only did Folau add a second try but Masirewa was handed a red card for a dangerous tackle in the buildup as the home side led 24-18 at the break.
Forced to play catch-up rugby and a man down, the Sunwolves threw caution to the wind in the second half, but it played right into the Waratahs hands.
Foley added a penalty soon after the restart before Ned Hanigan and Nick Phipps added tries in quick succession as the floodgates opened.
Further five pointers from Naiyaravoro (his 13th and 14th of the season), Curtis Rona, Michael Wells and a brace from Newsome saw the Waratahs break their record for most tries in a season as the home side kept their discipline and never eased off.
“The challenge when the opposition is down a man is that you try and play too much and get lost,” said Foley. “But we stuck at the structures and although we were a bit lucky with a couple of the tries, our outside backs looked good.”
Earlier, center Ngani Laumape scored four tries as the Wellington-based Hurricanes ended a three-match losing streak with a 42-24 win over the Auckland Blues which ensured their place in the playoffs.
Also Saturday, flyhalf Damian McKenzie produced an outstanding individual performance to guide the Chiefs to a 24-19 win over the Brumbies, sealing a place in the playoffs.
The Chiefs led 17-0 at halftime and 24-5 with 15 minutes remaining but had to hold out against a strong late rally from the Brumbies who were playing to keep their slim playoffs chance alive.