Super Rugby
Waratahs cling onto two-point victory
ESPN Staff
April 25, 2015
Date/Time: Apr 25, 2015, 19:55 local, 09:55 GMT
Venue: Stadium Australia, Sydney
New South Wales Waratahs 18 - 16 Rebels
Half-time: 13 - 3
Tries: Ashley-Cooper, Hooper, Horne
Pens: Foley
Tries: Hegarty
Cons: Debreczeni
Pens: Debreczeni 3
Adam Ashley-Cooper of the Waratahs is taken down by the Rebels defence, Waratahs v Rebels, Super Rugby, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, April 25, 2015
Adam Ashley-Cooper showed his brilliance to get over the tryline
© Getty Images

The Waratahs have clung onto a two-point victory after a Bryce Hegarty try in the 74th minute and a Jack Debreczeni conversion closing the gap for a nail-biting finish. But a knock-on from Rebels half-back Luke Burgess four minutes into extra time gave the Waratahs a must needed victory.

In a rollercoaster season of ups and downs, the Waratahs backed up their stylish win over the table-topping Hurricanes in Wellington with a hard-earned and bruising victory on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Tries to Michael Hooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Rob Horne lifted the Waratahs to sixth on the ladder, four points shy of the Brumbies, ahead of the two arch rivals' showdown on Friday night in the national capital.

Waratahs 18-16 Rebels (video available in Australia only)

The Waratahs defeated the Brumbies 28-13 in a spiteful encounter just three weeks ago in Sydney and another win would leave the titleholders' finals fate back in their own hands.

But less than pleased with his side's inability to put the Rebels to the sword after leading 13-0 early, Cheika said his charges would need to improve significantly to beat the Brumbies on their own patch for the first time since 2011.

"I don't think anyone's going to be shaking in their boots down there," Cheika said. "There were some very bright patches in that game, in particular the first half, and there were some very dark patches as well when we lost our go-forward."

Fortunately for Cheika, a day after Wallabies and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika admitted he was contemplating trying to lure the great George Smith out of retirement for the World Cup, Hooper responded to the challenge in similar fashion as Brumbies breakaway David Pocock did on Friday night.

Cheika said he probably couldn't squeeze three openside flankers into his 31-man World Cup squad, placing pressure on Hooper and Pocock to deliver - and they did. Hooper couldn't match Pocock's powerhouse hat-trick, but he still produced a priceless man-of-the-match display to ensure the Waratahs kept the plucky Rebels at bay.

"He is one of the most consistent footballers I have ever encountered," Cheika said. "His consistency is ridiculous really."

Like all three of Pocock's tries in the Brumbies' 31-18 home win over the Highlanders, Hooper collected the opening five-pointer of the night in the ninth minute from the back of a Waratahs rolling maul. He then ran a beautiful line off a Tahs lineout win before putting Ashley-Cooper over in the 20th minute.

A two-try hero in NSW's drought-breaking final win over the Crusaders, Ashley-Cooper returned to the scene of the Waratahs' greatest triumph to bag his first of the season. But with Bernard Foley missing both conversions and a penalty attempt, the Waratahs only led 13-3 at the break.

Two more long-range penalty goals from five-eighth Jack Debreczeni edged the Rebels to within four points of the Tahs - and effectively just a try from leapfrogging the defending champions on the ladder. Horne's five-pointer on the hour gave the home team some breathing space but a 74th-minute try to Rebels reserve Bryce Hegarty, on for fullback Mike Harris, set up a heartstopping finish for Waratahs fans.

Rebels coach Tony McGahan was proud of his side's comeback but conceded their slow start ultimately cost them victory.

Rob Horne slides over in the corner for a try © Getty Images

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