SYDNEY, March 18 (Reuters) - Lalaki Foketi’s late first-half try sparked a remarkable 38-point burst by the New South Wales Waratahs as they rallied from a 20-3 deficit to beat the Melbourne Rebels 51-27 in scorching conditions on Sunday.
With temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Celsius in Sydney, the match was broken into four 20-minute periods to allow short water breaks and the Rebels looked the only side capable of handling the sweltering heat.
Foketi’s try with two minutes remaining in the first half, however, kick-started a Waratahs side that were in danger of having their season plunge dangerously close to irrelevance after just four games.
The Rebels won just one game last season but have looked far more organised and combative with a host of players brought in from the disbanded Western Force under new coach Dave Wessels as they entered the match unbeaten.
As in their three previous games this season, they were aggressive in their defence by driving attacking players back in the tackle, taking the right options to exit their own territory and feeding off errors in the Waratahs’ end of the field.
Two of their first half tries to centre Tom English and Amanaki Mafi were the result of turnovers, with the Japan number eight galloping about 50 metres after the Waratahs had lost the ball in the tackle.
Winger Jack Maddocks also crossed to give his side a comfortable 20-3 lead with halftime looming, only for Foketi to turn the tide of the match with his try just before the break.
The Waratahs then scored 31 points in the next 20 minutes before the second water break by moving the ball wide at pace and committing defenders.
Lock Rob Simmons, scrumhalf Mitch Short, fullback Bryce Hegarty and replacement winger Taqele Naiyaravoro all crossed as the home side turned the 10-point deficit into a 41-20 lead.
Rebels lock Matt Philip replied almost immediately for his side’s fourth try to give them a faint whiff of a comeback, but flyhalf Bernard Foley’s third penalty with less than seven minutes remaining settled the game.
Naiyaravoro then brushed off three defenders to score his second in the final minute to give the Waratahs a remarkable victory. (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O’Brien)