Saturday, March 03, 2007

What exactly is a Waratah? (Part 2)

Waratahs 16 Force 16

Lote Tuqiri is expecting to be the target of widespread criticism after his extraordinary act of abusing then pushing teammate Sam Norton-Knight over a blunder that cost the Waratahs a much-needed victory over the Force at Aussie Stadium last night.

The Waratahs had the chance in the final seconds to break the 16-16 deadlock when they were awarded a penalty about 45 metres out. To the shock of his teammates, Norton-Knight emerged from nowhere and took a quick tap, charging down the sideline, only to be tackled while executing a quick chip kick. The ball was re-gathered by Force fullback Cameron Shepherd who cleared it, ending the game.

A furious Tuqiri ran 30m to chastise Norton-Knight, first with a verbal spray. But then he bumped into him with a shoulder before angrily pushing him in the back. A few seconds later Tuqiri turned and hurled more abuse at his shocked teammate.

After the Waratahs left the field with many in the 31,109-strong crowd booing them, Tuqiri apologised for his public admonishment of Norton-Knight.

But he was not expecting the issue to simply disappear overnight. "I know I will cop a bit of heat this week, but I have been copping heat the last few weeks as the media has been putting the knife in lately," said Tuqiri, his comment referring to the criticism for his form this season and the ongoing negotiations over his playing future.

While Tuqiri stood before his teammates in the sanctity of the Waratahs' changeroom to apologise to Norton-Knight, he tried to explain his actions.

"I am a passionate footballer, but my passion overflowed … there was a rush of blood," he said.

Tuqiri said that when NSW were awarded the crucial penalty, he thought the best option would be for Peter Hewat to take the penalty kick.

"But he [Norton-Knight] obviously didn't think that and backed himself," Tuqiri said. "It probably wasn't the right time to do it."

However, Tuqiri admitted that his response was a case of poor judgement as well. "My reaction was probably not right and I should keep those reactions behind closed doors. I want to win games … results are first and foremost."

The tense finale to a game that saw both sides leave with the consolation of two competition points for the draw highlighted the frustration the Waratahs are feeling as the Super 14 season nears half-way. They have had one win, one draw and two losses after five rounds (round four was a bye).

Tuqiri was obviously pumped up for a huge game last night, talking up teammates and giving the opposition some niggle, as Force forward David Pusey found out.

However, as the clock ticked down towards full-time, the emotions were building, especially after the Waratahs were left leaderless without captain and hooker Adam Freier and vice-captain Morgan Turinui, who were replaced in the 52nd minute. NSW coach Ewen McKenzie later said that Rocky Elsom had assumed leadership.

When NSW finally drew level 16-16 off a penalty kicked by Hewat in the 65th minute it was Tuqiri who directed the kick at goal.

It was a game that both sides could have won had they taken advantage of the periods in the game when they were in control. Both sides led the match which became a dull battle for field position.

The Force were the last to lead, from the 43rd minute to the 65th. And when they did take the lead soon after half-time, they seemed to be carrying the first-half momentum that had brought them back from a shocking start to be only 13-11 down.

It was man-of-the-match, the Force's five-eighth Matt Giteau, who then produced the best move of the game, 15m out after seeing NSW second-rower Will Caldwell had drifted wide.

Giteau stepped back inside and charged through the gap to beat opposing No.10 Kurtley Beale to score their second try.

In yesterday's other match, the Blues surged to a 28-9 victory over the Highlanders in Auckland.

NSW 16 (Morgan Turinui try; Peter Hewat con, 3 pens) drew with WESTERN FORCE 16 (Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau tries; Cameron Shepherd 2 pens) at Aussie Stadium. Referee: Paul Marks (Aus). Crowd: 31,149.

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