Peter Betham and Israel Folau help Waratahs down high-flying Hurricanes

Israel Folau broke a half-time deadlock and Peter Betham scored two tries as New South Wales Waratahs edged top-of-the-table Hurricanes on Saturday in Wellington in Super Rugby.

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The defending champions New South Wales Waratahs ended the Wellington Hurricanes’ unbeaten start to the season at seven matches Saturday, winning 29-24 in a thrilling match in which both teams scored four tries.

Fullback Israel Folau scored a bonus point try in the 51st minute which broke a 19-19 half-time deadlock and set the Waratahs on the way to their fifth win in eight matches this season. The Hurricanes took a consolation bonus point which returned them to the top of the table after they had conceded first place to the Waikato Chiefs, who beat the Canterbury Crusaders 26-9 on Friday.

Winger Peter Betham scored a double, including a crucial intercept try on the tick of half-time to help the Waratahs revive their shaky title defence.

“I’m very proud to be part of that game,” Waratahs captain Dave Dennis said. “Not many people gave us a chance against the ladder leaders but there was a lot of belief that we could come over here and put in a good performance.

“Though it wasn’t perfect it was a really big win for us.”

Both teams scored three tries in a first half which produced possibly the best play of the Super Rugby season to date.

Betham scored the first try of the match in the 13th minute after the Hurricanes had squandered a try-scoring opportunity when flanker Ardie Savea dropped the ball over the line.

The Hurricanes then reclaimed the lead with tries to centre Conrad Smith and flyhalf Beauden Barrett in a two-minute span in the middle of the half. They took a 14-7 lead but the Waratahs slashed that margin with a 33rd minute try to giant lock Will Skelton. Dennis was also run down inches from the line, preventing a try that might have made the Waratahs’ lead decisive.

Prop Brad Shields scored to give the Hurricanes a 19-12 advantage but the Waratahs levelled with an intercept try to Betham immediately before half-time.

The Hurricanes played a high-risk style of play which made them dangerous from all points on the pitch but also kept the Waratahs in the game. Folau’s try gave the Waratahs a crucial lead after half-time and flyhalf Bernard Foley kicked a penalty which made the advantage 10 points and prevented a Hurricanes rally.

The Hurricanes scored the last try of the match through scrumhalf TJ Perenara but couldn’t further close the gap.

“We played a good side and we weren’t good enough,” Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith said. “We’re a good attacking side, we felt we created a lot of opportunities on attack but we just leaked too many tries.”

In Saturday’s other early match the Otago Highlanders led 24-0 at half-time then held out a furious second half rally by the Auckland Blues to win 30-24 in the day’s second match in New Zealand.

The Highlanders led 27-0 early in the second half but All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu came off the bench to score two of four second half tries for the Blues who showed desperation to keep their play-offs hopes alive.

Centre Malakai Fekitoa scored two first half tries for the Highlanders who raced to a 17-0 lead after 16 minutes. Their half-time lead seemed unassailable but began to seem frail when Mealamu, George Moala and Patrick Tuipulotu scored tries in the first 15 mintues of the second spell, cutting the margin to 27-17.

Mealamu’s second try earned the Blues a bonus point but came too late to alter the outcome of the match.

Later on Saturday in Perth the Western Force host the Western Stormers, the Natal Sharks welcome the Blue Bulls in Durban and the Central Cheetahs take on the Queensland Reds in Bloemfontein.

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