Waratahs left scratching their heads after second loss

NEWCASTLE -- Waratahs coach Rob Penney has plenty to ponder after his side suffered a second straight defeat to start the Super Rugby season on a dreary night in Newcastle.

While the torrential downpour that has hit much of Australia's east coast over the last 48 hours actually spared McDonald Jones Stadium for much of Saturday night's 32-12 loss to the Blues, NSW never settled into the slippery conditions and only the second-half sin-binning of Hoskins Sotutu kept the hosts in the match.

The Blues instead sweated on the Waratahs' mistakes and brought a line speed that repeatedly pinned the NSW ball-runners behind the gainline, particular as they tried in vain to chase the game in the final minutes before fulltime. That resulted only in a second and third try to Blues winger Mark Telea and a 34-12 victory for the visitors, who made up for last week's second-half slide against the Chiefs to earn their first win of the season.

"We had the forecast pretty early in the week so we knew it was going to be wet and potentially windy," Blues coach Leon MacDonald said. "One of the learnings from last week was that we played a lot of rugby at the wrong end of the field and tonight we didn't do that, which was pleasing obviously."

The Waratahs dominated both possession and territory across the first 40 but were guilty of pushing too many 50-50 passes and inaccuracy at the breakdown; on multiple occasions the vital first cleanout was missed allowing the Blues to halt the Waratahs' momentum just when it looked like it might be about to build.

"A number of areas, our scrum was a bit creaky at times ... I thought our defence was a bit vulnerable, that's a big work-on for us and we're nowhere near where we need to be with that," Penney said of his side's performance.

"Just losing gainline moments ... we didn't kick well. So all in all, a pretty disappointing performance; we came here with a clear plan but for one reason or another we just deviated from it and that's one of the big learnings that we've got to take away from it, basically when we've got a plan, got a strategy, just be patient with it."

While they played with little territory or possession in the first half, the Blues, capitalised on their only real try-scoring opportunity when Blake Gibson showed strength and footwork to power over by the right corner after 11 minutes.

While the Waratahs managed to score right on the stroke of halftime through Lalakai Foketi - the patient, multi-phase build-up should have been a mantra for their second-half planning - to enter the sheds just 8-7 down, NSW instead came half asleep as the Blues scored in 42nd and 44th minutes to build a 12-point lead they never looked like relinquishing. Sotutu's yellow-card for a high tackle on Karmichael Hunt gave the Waratahs the opportunity to at least mount a challenge and it looked as though they might do just that when Mark Nawaqanitawase flew over in the corner just after the hour. But there was immediate concern for the rookie Waratahs winger as he lay prone by the dead-ball sideline, the 20-year-old flyer landing awkwardly on his neck while grounding the ball.

Nawaqanitawase - who has three tries in his first two Super Rugby games - was thankfully soon back to his feet and on the sideline, and later confirmed he was largely okay.

But the same can't be said of a Waratahs side that has given up 11 tries across the first two weeks of the competition. Penney's side is playing plenty of rugby but have so far lacked the accuracy to play it with any great continuity.

Penney will have a decision to make on whether he keeps the faith with young fly-half Will Harrison or perhaps reverts to veteran Kurtley Beale, who took charge for the last 24 minutes of the match, as they seek to turnaround their worst ever start to a Super Rugby season.

Forwards coach Matt Cockbain also have an issue at the scrum after the Waratahs front-five were taught a lesson in Newcastle; prop Harry Johnson-Holmes getting a working over from All Blacks powerhouse Karl Tu'inukuafe in particular.

That was no clearer than when Waratahs captain Rob Simmons called for a scrum from a penalty right under the Blues' sticks after the visitors' dynamic double strike to start the second half. But the Blues pack promptly marched straight over the top of their Waratahs counterparts once again, skipper Patrick Tuipulotu later admitting he couldn't believe Simmons' decision.

All in all, there is plenty for the NSW coaching staff to address in this new era. Just how much they can rectify in a week will be judged in next Friday's trip to Melbourne to face the Rebels, who also sit winless after two games.