Proud coach Daryl Gibson has hailed the NSW Waratahs' spirit and resilience after Bernard Foley's second-half blitz breathed fresh life in their Super Rugby season.
Firstly rocked, then galvanised, by the Israel Folau firestorm, the Waratahs overcame a week of turmoil and a 13-point halftime deficit to down the Melbourne Rebels 23-20 on Saturday night and regain control of their finals fate.
Foley scored all 16 points in the Waratahs' second-half fightback from 20-7 down at the break in skipper Michael Hooper's milestone 100th game for NSW.
Gibson admitted his side had been left mentally and physically exhausted by the Folau affair, with Super Rugby's all-time leading try-scorer issued with a breach of contract notice by Rugby Australia last Wednesday for his homophobic social media posts.
"I'm very pleased with the grit we showed. Particularly given the circumstances of the week, that was a really subdued changing room," Gibson said.
"It's a weird feeling, we've won a game, the emotion of the week, to come out with a win has been good, but it's a strange feeling.
"I just think it's been an emotional week all round, and to come out here and perform well and get a win is job done, but it takes a lot out of people emotionally and mentally."
A third win from as many starts at the SCG may well have saved NSW's season.
After falling seven competition points adrift of the Rebels after a last-start loss to the Blues, the Waratahs are suddenly back in the box seat in the Australian conference.
With the Rebels having a bye week to regroup after successive defeats, the Waratahs can go top of the conference with another home triumph over the Sharks next Saturday night.
The Waratahs' season threatened to slip away after a three-from-seven start preceded the Folau drama.
But after the superstar fullback was stood down from Waratahs duties as he fights to save his career, big guns Hooper, Foley and Kurtley Beale showed their class.
Replacing Folau at fullback, Beale's kicking game was superb, while Foley enjoyed a points win over Quade Cooper in their much-anticipated five-eighth duel.
"That bloke has so much ticker," Hooper said after Foley snatched a loose ball from the back of a lineout from Cooper's grasp before racing away to level the scores.
Foley had earlier slotted two second-half penalty goals to pull the Waratahs to within a converted try, before ultimately securing victory with another in the 65th minute.
"We had a bit of a different week but the guys really came together," Foley said.
"To come out tonight and get the result shows what we have as a team."
Australian Associated Press