Waratahs show mettle despite Chiefs blowout

AAMI PARK, Melbourne -- On a night when nothing seemed to go their way, the Waratahs showed plenty of mettle as they attempted to overcome two early cards, in a game where the end score failed to reflect the fight NSW showed in coming back in the second half and pushing their New Zealand opponents.

Reduced to 13 players within the opening 10 minutes of the match after prop Angus Bell was shown red for a dangerous tackle and centre Jamie Roberts' attempt at an intercept was rewarded with a yellow card, the Tahs and their coach Darren Coleman were left scrambling.

Quickly punished by the Chiefs led by a firing Bryn Gatland, NSW soon saw themselves on the wrong end of a 16-point deficit, as their defensive edges were repeatedly exposed.

Down but not out, the Waratahs clawed their way back in the match late in the middle quarters of the match to keep their heads above water, but the early cards would prove to be just the start of their problems.

Flying in to make a try-saving tackle, fullback Will Harrison was helped off the field with what looks like a season-ending knee injury just moments before the half-time break, while just five minutes into the second half the Tahs were without both hookers after David Porecki and Tom Horton left the field with head knocks resulting in uncontested scrums for the rest of the match, and creating all sorts of problems at lineout time.

"I feel where want this team to get to is that excuses aren't an option, we just get on with it," Coleman said post-match. "You're going to have bad days and unlucky days, you just got to stay in it and the crux of it was the Kiwis blew us away in the last 15 or 20 minutes like they've been doing for years, so we've got to get on with fixing that.

"We we're confident we were ready to really give it a good fight and just some things go against you, that's just footy. You have good days and you have bad days, you get a little bit of luck, and it didn't go our way.

"Will Harrison looks like he got a pretty significant knee injury there. He's a tough little bugger as well and he's had a horrible run with injury this year, he's bounced from, I think this is his fourth injury, but this one looks like it's pretty significant. It adds salt to the wound when you lose good young players to a major injury."

As NSW pushed hard to keep themselves in the match, several of their experienced players stepped up to the challenge, while many more of their emerging talents took their games to another level as they closed the gap.

Jed Holloway continued his impressive form, running a slick unders line that saw him shoot through the gap before he sent a one-handed offload to his captain Jake Gordon for the side's first try of the night. Gordon would add to his tally with an intercept try that saw him race close to 70 metres, and Alex Newsome would finish off a strong Charlie Gamble run that saw the flanker bust through two defenders. Meanwhile, as structures fell apart around him Tane Edmed remained assured at fly-half.

"We said it at halftime, I think we concede 21 points in the 20-minute red card period and it was important to me that we didn't make excuses in the second half. We were back to 15 men, so we had 15-on-15 albeit with a few positional switches, we wanted to win that second half and it looked like we were going to be, but just that last 15-20 minutes they were just too good for us. But we'll get better, there's a lot of fight in that group.

"Charlie Gamble's immense, isn't he? We'll have to watch it back but first impressions he was probably our best guy on the field again."

Despite the many setbacks, Coleman refused to make any excuses. While proud of his team's effort to bring the game back within reach and put themselves within strike distance of winning, it's the final 20 minutes where he knows the Waratahs must up their game for this final trans-Tasman flurry to finish the regular season.

"I'd prefer not to sort of make excuses around that," Coleman said. "The difference between us and the Kiwis at the moment is that last 15 to 20 minutes, that's the biggest thing we need to improve.

"We haven't finished well all year. Like we keep stats on the last 15-20 minutes of games and we haven't done well in that aspect just yet, so that's the next progression for us as a team is to do better in last 15 or 20 minutes.

"Cream rises, as they say, and we're not quite there yet, so I'm proud of their fight and their character, but we've got to be better in the last 20 minutes."