WARATAHS coach Daryl Gibson was keeping a second-half comeback firmly in perspective after NSW went down to the Highlanders 50-47 in their final trial at Lottoland.
The Tahs trailed by as much as 33-11 against the white-hot Kiwis in the first half before surging back into the game in the second period.
With the Highlanders’ All Blacks subbed off, NSW scored four tries to two in the second half and even led 47-40 before a late visitor’s try saw the scores tied at full time.
With the final siren sounded, NSW pressed the Highlanders’ line hard before a mistake allowed the Kiwis to work downfield and gratefully accept a 35-metre penalty to win.
It was a rousing finish for the 5004 crowd at Brookvale but Gibson was all-too aware that when both teams had their A-sides on, the Waratahs were clearly outclassed five tries to two by the star-laden Highlanders.
“That’s probably what we will take out of it. First half … we conceded five tries,” Gibson said.
“Near the end there it was a bit of a lottery with both teams mixed and matched.
“Plenty to work on. The wind was a strong factor in the first half but when we review the tape we will be disappointed with the way we conceded tries. It highlighted a number of areas we have to fix up and correct for next week.”
Andrew Kellaway (shoulder) was the only injury worry, and he may be in doubt to meet the Western Force on Saturday week.
That could potentially see Israel Folau moved to fullback, which would be a shame given the star centre formed a promising combination with new recruit Irae Simone. Simone scored a try and after adapting to the pace of the game, showed why people are talking him up as a huge prospect.
The halfback battle wasn’t settled but Matt Lucas looked the most composed; albeit when all the reserves were on.
Gibson said both defence coaches would have been disappointed by the fact the game almost hit 100 points, but Nathan Grey will be hitting the computers early to address his backline’s work.
The Highlanders created space on the right edge effortlessly for tries, and also used kicks to score twice.
“When we review the tape we will look at the defensive system,” Gibson said.
“We were exposed with some excellent play. They got us on kicks and we haven’t quite solved that problem, they’re very good at getting the ball into those spaces. We didn’t adapt.”
The Waratahs got the benefit of a decent tailwind in the second half and the NZRU edict that All Blacks can only play a half in a trial.
NSW kept many of their stars on for an hour, and it helped them finally get more fluidity in their play. Folau and Simone scored and Taqele Naiyaravoro stamped his claim for a starting spot with a strong effort.
“We woke up a little. At the start we were a bit flat and the energy was a lot better,” Gibson said.
“It highlighted what we wanted to get out of it, in a trial.”
The energy of young players like Ned Hanigan and Brad Wilkin also impressed Gibson, and he’d have been happy with the cameo of prop David Lolohea too. Michael Hooper was his usual freakish self in his first game back.
“You want to bottle that DNA and give it to everyone else, because he’s into everything,” Gibson said.
Another positive for Gibson was the goal kicking of Reece Robinson, who stepped up as a replacement for Bernard Foley (groin) and banged over seven from nine.