If Wallabies coach Robbie Deans watched last night's Waratahs-Rebels fixture in Sydney, he may have had pangs of concern about his prospects this international season.
Stodgy attacking lines, clumsiness in possession, the Rebels' inability to utilise attacking backs Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor to maximum effect and a general lack of flair must have the Wallabies coach fretting.
Fortunately Beale came right later in the match to put Lachlan Mitchell into a gap. The handling errors were 9-2 and the turnovers 11-3 against the Rebels in the first half alone. The Waratahs didn't exactly capitalise as they kicked away a swag of possession.
The 30-21 win moved the Waratahs to the top of the Australian conference on 25 points with the Brumbies potentially going above them overnight in South Africa. The Waratahs play the resurgent Crusaders next Sunday afternoon. The Rebels are third to last in the competition on 14 points. They have a bye this week where the Lions and Blues could go past them. It was the Waratahs' second win against the Rebels this season after a 35-19 victory in round two.
The return match proved tedious at times, despite a misleading first 26 seconds which gave the Australian rugby faithful false hope. The Waratahs delivered slick ball through the hands to second five-eighths Tom Carter who popped an inside ball to wing Adam Ashley-Cooper. He completed a scissors movement by flicking the ball to fullback Bernard Foley to score.
The Rebels were in danger of repeating the failure of last week which had them down 30-6 at halftime to the Brumbies. This time it was 16-7 but enough to give the Waratahs the momentum to ease to the win, especially once Wycliff Palu produced a netball chest pass to Tatafu Polota-Nau at the front of the lineout five metres from the line - and he went across unchallenged.
The Rebels produced one clear highlight when their forwards rolled the Waratahs back over their line. Former Hurricanes hooker Ged Robinson benefited at the back of the maul.
Rocky Elsom made his first appearance of the season with a 15-minute spell to finish the match and produced some charismatic brutal defence. O'Connor came off midway through the second half with suspected rib cartilage damage. He caught Berrick Barnes' knee in his midriff challenging for a chip kick. More worries for Deans.
Waratahs 30 (B. Foley, T. Polota-Nau, R. Horne tries, B. McKibbin 3 cons, 3 pens) Rebels 21 (G. Robinson, T. Davidson, L. Mitchell tries, J. O'Connor, K. Beale, J. Huxley cons) Halftime: 16-7.