Sarel shines for Waratahs

2012-02-11 08:10
Sarel Pretorius (File)
Sydney - South African discard Sarel Pretorius on Friday took the torch from Kurtley Beale as the Waratahs' X-factor with a strong display in a trial against Samoa in Tamworth.

Super Rugby's leading try-scorer in 2011, the lightning-fast Pretorius did not waste any time asserting himself for his new team, barking orders and defending ardently.

His exertions were greeted by raucous applause from the new Tahs coach, Michael Foley. Wherever the stocky No 9 went he attracted defenders, often two at a time.

The Waratahs promised they wouldn't kick away possession in 2012, and insisted they'd put boot to ball in attacking situations. And that's what Pretorius did in only the 15th minute, putting through a deft grubber for stand-in fullback Brackin Karauria-Henry to pounce on.

Seven minutes later, he was at it again, rescuing the ball from a messy breakdown to get a quick pass away for wing Lachie Turner to cross out wide in heavy rain.

And within another 10, having bamboozled the Samoan ruck for much of the match, Pretorius skipped across the line from the breakdown to put the Tahs out to a 31-0 lead against a relatively unknown Samoan team.

Even better news for Tahs fans, Pretorious's halves partner, Berrick Barnes, also looked good before the Wallabies utility injured a finger.

Of three first-quarter kicks, two won the Waratahs serious attacking territory while the third was a textbook over-the-line chip for his flying wingers.

''I thought Sarel was very good and I thought Berrick Barnes was exceptional tonight,'' Foley said.

''With the captaincy and controlling the game as well as he did, I thought Berrick was brilliant. We were moving the ball around well and when the rain came down I thought the boys adjusted particularly well.

''That discipline in the first game of the year, when they are particularly excited to be out there, I thought it was excellent. The backs certainly did a lot of work around the kick chase and I certainly was impressed with their condition.''

It was Barnes's set plays with Pretorius and No 12 Tom Carter that deserved real attention, the pair linking up on several occasions to execute run-around plays perfectly.

Barnes looked more comfortable than at any time in a Waratahs jersey. Carter too, made his presence felt, getting heavily involved in the rolling maul from two lineouts to notch a double inside the first 30 minutes.

But in a rain-soaked match, it wasn't just the playmakers who impressed. New tight-head Paddy Ryan has emerged from the off-season a picture of power.

Tall and lean, his mobility around the park was impressive, as shown when surprising bursts of speed resulted in him breaking the line on several occasions.

Together with a trimmed- down Sekope Kepu - who scored the Waratahs' third push-over try with a catch and drive at the lineout - the Waratahs front row was strong.

As was No 8 Pat McCutcheon, who did his best Phil Waugh impersonation by getting aggressive at the breakdown and being a magnet for confrontation.

''I thought we played strongly,'' Foley said. ''The forwards had a lot of work to do and like the backs, I was really impressed with their condition. I thought the forwards played really well.

And when you're playing in those slippery conditions and the backs aren't seeing much ball, it's easy to lose concentration. So I thought they played with great discipline.

''There's a lot of work to be done, but that's exactly what I wanted from this match. First game of the year; not too bad.''

The Samoans scored their only try of the first half with just eight minutes remaining on the clock, the first-string Waratahs XV leaving the field 38-5 victors.

It wasn't all good news for the Waratahs on Friday, with wing Lachlan Turner suffering what could be a long-term hamstring injury and Barnes damaging his finger.

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