Israel Folau took just one minute to open his account for the year, as the Wallabies’ wizard bagged a hat-trick in the NSW Waratahs’ 43-21 opening-round Super Rugby victory over the Western Force at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
Folau’s brilliant finishing ability and on-field presence clicked NSW’s season into gear in a scrappy but encouraging six-tries-to-two bonus-point win.
After conquering all before him in his debut season last year, Folau exploded out of the blocks and had a double inside 23 minutes.
Folau raised three fingers to his lips in jubilation when his third try sealed the result for NSW 14 minutes from fulltime, in a performance which should ensure a big crowd against fellow Australian Conference heavyweights Queensland next Saturday.
Thrill-a-minute winger Alofa Alofa also continued his meteoric rise, setting up Folau’s first and then bagging a try of his own in an eye-catching Super Rugby debut.
Execution eluded the Waratahs far too often, with the new-look midfield combination of Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale suffering some early teething problems in a mistake-riddled performance.
But the intention was there for the Waratahs, as they stuck with their attack-at-all-costs game plan.
Even though it took them the best part of 70 minutes to put a spirited Force side out of business, the sheer class in the Waratahs backline proved enough in the end.
NSW coach Michael Cheika said during the week his team would have to be prepared to wear some unflattering errors in their pursuit of attacking nirvana.
And so it was when a clumsy flick pass from Peter Betham allowed Force flyers Luke Morahan and Nick Cummins to lay on an 80-metre try which brought the visitors back to 29-21 with less than a quarter to play.
However, journeyman winger Matt Carraro illustrated the depth in the NSW arsenal when he made an incisive run up the middle to pilot Folau over for an unassailable 36-21 advantage.
Beale then put the icing on the cake after play had stopped for an extended period as Force replacement Brynard Stander was stretchered from the field.
The Waratahs opened the scoring with a slick backline move which sent Alofa down the right-flank before finding Folau on his inside.
Some smart work off the back of the ruck from halfback Nick Phipps put big No.8 Wycliff Palu through a half hole and he handed off for the ever-present Folau to do the rest.
The Force remained within striking distance throughout thanks to Cummins’ double and the boot of Zac Holmes.
Giant lock Will Skelton made a strong impression in the first half, before Springbok hardman Jacques Potgieter wasted no time getting himself in the faces of the South African Force players in the second 40.