The Waratahs cooked their own goose by conceding two cards in the second half against the Sharks.
What else are we talking about?
1. Card to argue
Playing in rugby league heartland for the first time this year, the Waratahs sure went to extreme lengths to win hearts and minds by playing with 13 men in the second half.
You’d laugh if it wasn’t so avoidable.
The red card to Jed Holloway in the 46th minute, followed by the yellow to Jack Dempsey in 51st, was – unsurprisingly – the decisive factor in what was otherwise shaping as a tense arm-wrestle.
It hurt the Waratahs badly, and even though the Sharks had a man in the bin too for half of Dempsey’s sentence, they still had to play 13 on 15 for five minutes.
And they had no-one to blame but themselves.
Neither card was harsh. Or at least in the current world of rugby.
In the past, a guy hanging onto a jersey was discouraged physically in back play. And he mostly didn’t do it again.
Today, there is no such thing as back play.
All that it takes is a 136kg prop to fall to the ground, lie still for a long time, have a concerned medico attend and wait for the referee to stop play. And then the replays do the rest.
Referee Nic Berry had no choice but to red card Holloway once he saw him swing an elbow into Thomas du Toit’s jaw, regardless of whether it was “not intentional”, as Michael Hooper argued.
Bottom line Holloway cooked his own goose, and the team’s too, by reacting. By “taking it into his own hands”.
Given du Toit was yellow carded for his shirt tug, too, it’ll be interesting to see whether referees and ARs start penalising cynical fouls, as the sole issuer of deterrence.
2. Dempsey debate
Dempsey’s yellow was equally indefensible. Perhaps more so, given the fact his teammate had just been sent off.
The big flanker put his hand in between the legs of Sbusiso Nkosi and lifted him pretty mildly, all things considered.
But again it was always going to be a card when the replays were run and the referee began ticking boxes.
Dempsey was looking to display aggression and that’s what you want from a backrower.
But you also want game smarts, and when the single leg was grabbed in the heat of a tackle, that was a pickle best avoided by letting go asap.
It’ll be interesting to see where Dempsey sits in the Wallabies plans this year.
After a few years of injury, he did brilliantly well for the Aussie team on the Spring tour last year and looked primed for a big season for NSW.
But Dempsey’s form has been solid without being spectacular. His running game hasn’t been sighted often, and with the likes of Luke Jones, Isi Naisarani, Locky McCaffrey and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto all in good form, he has plenty of competition this season.
3. Western wonder
Bankwest lives up to the hype. It has intimacy like no other stadium in Australia and the seats are so steep, it almost gives you a Spidercam view on the defensive and offensive shapes used by sides.
It is well worth a visit just for the experience.
The atmosphere? Excellent, and given there was only a disappointing 10,605 in attendance, that says a fair bit about the acoustic benefits of the layout.
In fact, it was hard to know whether it was good or bad that throughout the match, the referee could occasionally hear – with alarming clarity – some advice shouted across the field from a single disgruntled fan.
The Waratahs could probably do with spending a whole week out west ahead of their next home game against the Jaguares in a month. Convincing people to spend their hard-earned and get off the couch is getting tougher each year and connections are made in schoolyards and shopping centres.
Even two-thirds full with 20,000, Bankwest Stadium would be a spectacular rugby venue.
If the Waratahs manage to pull it out and win the Australian conference, go west.
4. African unknowns
The added kicker to the Waratahs’ going down to 13 and 14 men in the second half is trying to now figure out whether their gameplan needs a major overhaul for the upcoming tour of South Africa.
The game was locked at 10-all when Holloway was sent off.
Understandably no-one was all that keen to dive into sliding doors hypotheticals post-match, but presumably were NSW banking on the big Sharks forwards tiring in the last 20 minutes and gaps opening up.
They’d attempted to turn them around and run to wide channels in the first half, with a mountain of possession.
It wasn’t always successful. The Sharks were physically dominant and not only held their line, but choked-tackled a few turnovers.
So who would have prevailed in that game without the cards? Sharks coach Robert Du Preez thought his mob.
The Waratahs now have to figure out if could have been them and persist with their gameplan against the Bulls. If not, all change, all stops.
5. Rollercoaster blues
After last night’s victory by the Sharks, there was only nine points between third and 14th on the Super Rugby ladder.
That’s two good wins between a home final and sniffing distance of the spoon.
So if ever there was a season to start being consistent, it’s this one.
And yet the Waratahs have been as reliably up-and-down as Tiger from a trap at Augusta.
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NSW won well against the competition leaders the Crusaders and then dropped to the Sunwolves a week later.
They beat the Aussie conference leaders the Rebels well, and then fail to take a point against the Sharks – who are coming off two losses and on the road.
Now the Waratahs have three tough games on the road; two in Africa and one in Brisbane.
It’s one thing to harness the motivation of being bagged and written off, to lift and prove people wrong.
It’s another to notch up three and four wins in a row – to win when you’re expected to win.
Do that and more often than not you’ll play finals. The Waratahs record this year is LWWLWLLWL.