The NSW Waratahs have produced the hottest of starts to set up a 41-24 win over a depleted Western Force in their Super Rugby Pacific clash at Perth’s HBF Park.
The Force trailed 22-0 in the 14th minute on Saturday night after conceding three quick tries.
It followed on from similar early flops against the Rebels and Brumbies in recent weeks – with both of those matches ending in one-point losses.
Force stand-in skipper Kyle Godwin said the team needed to fix their poor starts.
“It seems to be the same story for us unfortunately,” Godwin told Stan.
NSW were forced to defend for long periods after their early onslaught, but the foundations they laid were enough to secure the six-tries-to-four victory.
The Force were dealt several late blows before the match, with captain Feleti Kaitu’u (calf), Jeremy Thrush (soreness), Bayley Kuenzle (gastro), and Toni Pulu (concussion) all ruled out before the kick-off.
Their withdrawals compounded the losses of Wallabies enforcer Izack Rodda and scrumhalf Issak Fines-Leleiwasa to the COVID-19 health and safety protocols, with coach Tim Sampson also forced into isolation after being considered a close contact.
The Force certainly started the match like a team in disarray.
Waratahs winger Mark Nawaqanitawase picked off an attempted cut-out pass from Force scrumhalf Ian Prior before sprinting 58m to the line for the first try.
Inside center Lalakai Foketi crossed for the team’s second try in the 10th minute following a smart break from Waratahs flyhalf Tane Edmed.
And the Force’s ineptitude was clearly on display in the 14th minute when Waratahs flanker Michael Hooper picked the ball up from a breakdown and waltzed through two defenders for the easiest of tries.
Trailing 24-0, the Force finally clicked into gear.
A barging run from Force winger Manasa Mataele in which he took on three tacklers before popping up a pass while lying on the ground helped set a try to flyhalf Reesjan Pasitoa in the 20th minute.
The Waratahs defended 26 consecutive phases during a tiring three-minute period to deny the Force a second try before half-time.
But Force forward Tim Anstee crossed four minutes after the restart to reduce the margin to 12 points.
The teams traded rolling maul tries, but a yellow card to Pasitoa for a cynical foul proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the Force.
Waratahs speedster Alex Newsome crossed twice in the space of four minutes while Pasitoa was off, extending the margin to 41-19.
NSW were reduced to 13 men when Mahe Vailanu and Foketi received yellow cards in quick succession, with a try to Pasitoa meaning the Waratahs needed to score another try themselves in order to regain the bonus point.
Nawaqanitawase thought he achieved it after picking off a Force pass and racing towards the line after the final siren.
The winger dropped the ball during the intercept, but instead of hitting the ground, it struck his boot.
However, the referee ruled it was a knock-on.
“That’s tough for us, we thought it came off the foot,” Waratahs forward Charlie Gamble said.
“We lost that crucial bonus point. Hopefully it doesn’t come back to bite us in the end.”