June 6, 2015
Israel Folau scored a hat-trick as the Waratahs thrashed the Cheetahs with a 58-33 victory in Bloemfontein.
In the end the visitors finished with nine tries and never really got out of third gear, punishing the Cheetahs limp defensive work through their powerful runners.
The Waratahs knew what was required to move back to the top of the Australian Conference following the Brumbies' win over the Force on Friday, with a bonus point victory required and duly delivered.
Lapses in their defence will have disappointed Michael Cheika but in the end the champions were comfortable winners, and would have been by even more had Bernard Foley not struggled with the boot in the first half.
The play-offs are now very much in the frame for the Waratahs and while they have not been the dominant force of last year, with the Hurricanes taking on that mantle in 2015, they are still a lethal outfit in attack with so many top internationals at their disposal.
Folau in particular will have enjoyed his three tries, with the Wallabies star also adding two assists.
The Cheetahs had nothing more to play for than pride, with their younger players actually performing well, despite the scoreline. 2015 has been a write-off but their supporters will have taken some signs for the future out of this, with the only way being up.
Encouraged by the return of departing fullback Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks notably returned to form with two of their five tries.
The contest threatened to be a runaway rout for the 'Tahs after Folau went over for his first try in the opening minutes by beating Hendricks around the outside.
Michael Hooper doubled the lead with a simple finish after the Waratahs picked the Cheetahs apart with their passing and at 0-12 a response from the hosts was desperately needed.
They got it as Hendricks broke through to create a chance finished off by Francois Venter, with Hendricks then securing his first try after he shot out of the line to intercept a poor pass from Wycliff Palu.
Coenie van Wyk's conversion put the Cheetahs briefly ahead at 14-12 but Matt Carraro was sent over for another simple score in the corner to restore order for the Waratahs.
The two sides continued trading shots with Boom Prinsloo's try changing the lead once more, as the back-rower touched down following a strong rolling maul.
The Waratahs however always looked dangerous and Folau grabbed his second after another patient attack opened up the defence all too easily, with the full-back then putting in Taqele Naiyaravoro before half-time for the 'Tahs to lead 29-21 at the interval and with the bonus point already secured.
Even with the Cheetahs trailing the crowd at Bloemfontein were treated to a feast of scores and that was the same case in the second half, but it was all one-way traffic.
Adam Ashley-Cooper broke through a poor tackle near the Cheetahs line to get the fifth score before the hosts battled back, a clever pass from Le Roux freeing up Hendricks who chip and chased for a special solo score.
The conversion from Niel Marais suddenly brought the contest back to life at 28-34, but from there on in the Waratahs ran riot.
Folau completed his hat-trick and was infuriated as Rayno Benjamin attempted to trip him on his way through, with the Cheetahs back sent to the bin as a result.
Foley added a penalty to take the game away from the hosts before he intercepted a wild pass from the Cheetahs deep near their posts for a try of his own, with Carraro following him over for his second score before Venter grabbed a consolation to lessen the damage on the scoreboard.
Job done then for Michael Cheika and the Waratahs, who return to the top three and will now look ahead to Round 18 with the play-offs looming and the chance to defend their title still alive.