What are we talking about after the Waratahs’ 31-8 victory over the Bulls in Sydney?
1. Centres #incrisis?
Kurtley Beale was stretchered off the field with a knee injury in the first 40 seconds of Saturday night’s game but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to available 12s for the Wallabies. Matt Toomua is already out with a knee injury, potentially facing a challenge to be fit for the June Tests and Matt Giteau has had an injury-interrupted season with Toulon, and would be unlikely to come back for the England series. If Beale is out for an extended period, it could open the door for Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani to pair up in the centres. Though Kerevi also has injury issues, still recovering from a broken hand. That leaves Brumbies co-captain Christian Lealiifano as the potential frontrunner with three weeks until the opening Test.
2. Phipps stepping up
Nick Phipps has been somewhat unheralded this season, though one of the more consistent Waratahs. The NSW scrumhalf was instrumental in wrestling the advantage for his team, scoring two tries, and setting up one in between. He’s a force in defence as well, finishing with seven tackles. He’s been the one constant of the Waratahs backline this season and possibly their most reliable.
3. Take two
After coughing up a last-gasp bonus point chance against the Cheetahs, the Waratahs thought they had the vital extras in the 70th minute against the Bulls, when Phipps went over for his second try. The Waratahs made five changes after that and looked to be ready to shut the game down. The Bulls snatched away the three-try advantage with their first of the match to Andries Swanepoel. That was a red rag to the Bulls’ opponents, with Angus Ta’avao scoring in the 79th minute to put them back on top.
4. Backs’ brick wall
It seems like almost every week one of the Waratahs backs makes a defensive play that keeps people talking. On Saturday night, it was Israel Folau who proved he is really starting to master both sides of outside centre, forcing a penalty deep in the Waratahs’ territory, 60 minutes into the match, to take the pressure off the home side. Their defence overall was strong on Saturday night, taking until the 73rd minute to concede a try.
5. What a difference a week makes
Just seven days ago the Waratahs were chopping the ground in every scrum. On Saturday night, the surface held up remarkably well after a midweek patch job. The turf looked impeccable as the Waratahs and Bulls battled it out and the sight would have sent waves of relief through officials with the June Tests looming.