The Southern Kings were introduced to the harsh reality that playing with character can only take you so far and so many weeks into the Vodacom Super Rugby season as the Waratahs ran riot to score a massive 72-10 win at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The Kings have shocked everyone this season with the guts and commitment, as well as the defensive organisation that they’ve taken into every game.
Along the way they have beaten a few teams no-one would have expected them to, and Saturday’s was their first defeat in four starts against Australian sides.
However, while well coached and clearly driven by the clarion call of director of rugby Alan Solomons at the start of the season that if nothing else they must play with character, it is probably both physically and mentally impossible to show the frenetic all-out effort and intensity they packed into their early games all season in a competition as arduous and demanding as Super Rugby is.
Against the Vodacom Bulls two weeks ago the Kings saw a glimpse of what might happen if, inevitably, they hit a stage of the season where the effort they have put in caught up with them.
But that was only a glimpse. What the Waratahs did was the full Monty as they put 11 tries past their hapless and hopelessly outclassed opponents.
It was the ninth successive game for a Kings team that last had a bye in the second week of the competition, and that is just too much for a team that has to raise its game every week.
You could say the game was over as a contest in a matter of seconds, for it looked as though the first try that the Waratahs scored, after just 38 seconds, knocked all the fight out of the Kings.
It was disputed, for referee Jonathan Kaplan rightly consulted with TMO Johan Meuwesen over the possibility that there was obstruction when Israel Folau first got the ball and stepped his way through into the clear from near halfway.
The ball eventually found its way to wing Cam Crawford who completed the try, and Meuwesen ruled that the Kings tacklers hadn’t been impeded.
It was a marginal call, but there was nothing marginal about anything that happened after that, with the linespeed on defence that had been such a feature of previous Kings performances being noticeably absent.
PASSIVE ON DEFENCE
Instead they were passive on defence, waiting for the Waratahs to run onto them, as was the case when they were well beaten by the Crusaders in their first tour game six weeks ago.
This played right into the Waratahs’ hands, with their strong running and switches of direction proving too much for the Kings' defence, with eight missed tackles being recorded in 49 attempts by the 25-minute mark.
By then the Waratahs were already ahead 27-3, having clinched their four-try bonus point as early as the 18th minute, Kane Douglas profiting as Sergeal Petersen took the wrong line in trying to make an intercept near his own tryline.
Petersen eventually did get it right just before halftime, intercepting a pass from prop Benn Robinson and running half the length of the field to score a try that was greeted with great enthusiasm by the supporters in the stands.
But apart from an early penalty from Demetri Catrakilis, that was the only joy the Eastern Cape faithful had in the first half as, for the second consecutive home match, they saw their team get outgunned.
The Waratahs’ performance was certainly a loud warning to the Stormers, who they face in Sydney next Saturday, with Folau showing just what an awesome talent he is in scoring his team’s second try, creating it out of nothing as he stepped and ran his way through the poor Kings defence to score near the posts.
Crawford then made it look too easy as he reached and stretched for the third try, the right wing pivoting in off the touchline and exploiting a Kings defence that was just rank awful.
Crawford scored again before halftime to make it a first-half hat-trick. His team had crossed the whitewash on seven occasions as they took the break 46-10 ahead.
BETTER SECOND HALF
Luke Watson and a host of replacements were introduced at halftime for the Kings, and it was a much better second half for the hosts, who at last provided some of that necessary character in stemming the tide that in the first half had looked like it might lead to a three-figure score.
But it did not immediately stop the bleeding, with Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis going over in the corner for the try that put his team past the half century mark in just the 45th minute.
The running and switching at the back was not the only area where the Waratahs were vastly superior, and the Stormers should have noted the contemptuous ease with which the visitors dealt with the Kings' scrum.
One of those big scrums secured a heel against the head that set up a clean break from the Waratahs flyhalf that led to a try to flanker Michael Hooper.
There was also some good lineout work from the Waratahs, in particular the successful contesting of a throw right on their tryline. The lineout drive has been an area of try-scoring profit for the Kings this season but it wasn’t in this game.
There can be no denying that this was a day where the Kings just didn’t pitch, but it was also a day where the Waratahs were particularly brilliant.
The little inside pass that sent in Peter Bentham for his second try from Adam Ashley Cooper would have been too much for most defensive systems.
Australian rugby is certainly styling ahead of the arrival of the British and Irish Lions.
Southern Kings – Try: Sergeal Petersen. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalty: Catrakilis.
Waratahs – Tries: Cam Crawford (3), Israel Folau, Kane Douglas, Michael Hooper, Peter Betham (2), David Dennis, Ben Volavola, Tom Kingston. Conversions: Brendan McKibbin (5), Matt Lucas (2). Penalty: McKibbin