Kicking off round three, the Waratahs finally saw some success with a win over the Melbourne Rebels. The first half involved an exchange of penalties, but by half time the Rebels led 16-6 after Ged Robinson stole a shifty try from the front of a lineout five metres from the line. It took until 20 minutes into the second half for the Waratahs to start playing exciting rugby. Israel Folau was instrumental setting up Bernard Foley and then Tom Hooper in succession, capped off in the 75th minute when substitute front rower Paddy Ryan slipped through an invisible gap in the defence to cross for a third NSW try. Former Waratah Kurtley Beale recovered some dignity for the Rebels, scoring a consolation try on full time, but the final score stood at 31-26, the first success for the Waratahs’ new coach, Michael Cheika.
Up in Brisbane, the Reds defeated the touring Wellington Hurricanes 18-12. Most notably, Digby Ioane pulled out an act of singularly impressive athleticism when he surged across the line and into the corner in the 23rd minute, before the two defenders could drag him out; the instant replay showed his boots and shoulders both within a hairsbreadth of the touchline. However, probably in spite of rather than because he looks like a pissed off Zeta with his new moustache, the try was awarded. The touch judges were on overdrive, and the less fortunate Hurricanes were denied two five pointers over the course of the game, the first for a boot scraping into touch, the second for an unassuming knock on preceding a messy play. Round 3 also saw a big upset in New Zealand, when the Auckland Blues defeated the Canterbury Crusaders 34-15. It was the first time the Crusaders have conceded four tries since 2005.
In round four the Waratahs were demolished by a stampeding home side here in Canberra, a spectacle I had the distinction of witnessing firsthand. It was clearly going to be an interesting night as an away team supporter when the stadium commentator announced over the loudspeaker for the Brumbies fans that “a win against the Waratahs is a win for humanity.”
Appalling discipline at the breakdown saw Brumbies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano put away 9 points from penalties for the home side inside the first 10 minutes. Brumbies superstar flanker David Pocock tore the ACL in his left knee 12 minutes in, putting him out of selection for Australia during the upcoming British and Irish Lions Tour. However, his replacement was prodigal son, and Wallabies flanker George Smith, who returned to Australia from his Japanese club during the off-season. Needless to say, things continued to go downhill for the Waratahs.
In the 25th minute the Brumbies forward pack tore open the NSW defence with a punishing rolling maul, sending Ben Mowen over for the opening try. The home side followed up in the 33rd minute when fullback Jessie Mogg calmly slotted a very professional grubber between two Waratahs as he was being thumped off his centre of gravity by the defence. Lealiifano turned on the gas, anticipating the move, and picked up the try with plenty of space.
With two minutes left on the clock, Jessie Mogg went for a run from the Brumbies tryline before offloading to substitute Robbie Coleman ten metres from halfway. Coleman found himself with fifty metres of ground to cover and the stadium rose to its feet as he put on a chip-and-chase. The bounce was good and he crashed over the tryline with Waratahs winger Lachy Turner latched to his jersey. The triumphant Brumbies walked away with four tries, a bonus point, a 35-6 victory over their greatest rivals, and remain undefeated for 2013.
Elsewhere in round four, the Queensland Reds conquered the Melbourne Rebels at home, 26-13, with off-field mates and fellow Wallabies James O’Conner and Quade Cooper playing opposite one another in the no. 10 jersey at flyhalf. In South Africa the Port Elizabeth Kings were humbled by the Durban Sharks 11-21, and defending champions the Cape Town Stormers only just held onto victory over the Waikato Chiefs, 36-34. Next game to look out for: Brumbies vs. Bulls, 30th March at Bruce Stadium.