“That was a game of two halves. The Force put a lot of pressure on us. I thought our game management in the second half was really good.
“They came with a lot of emotion. We fell into the trap early on of younger guys maybe trying to express themselves a little bit too much too early and that’s where the errors came and compounded.”
The big moment came from reserve Karmichael Hunt when his side were down 14-13 in the 61st minute and there may have been some good fortunate along the way, with Force coach Tim Sampson saying he would liked cricket’s DRS technology at his disposal.
Hunt pulled off a 50-22, his kick resembling something from his rugby league days, which presented the Waratahs excellent field position as they searched for a killer blow.
There was some debate as to whether the ruck before Hunt’s kick began in the Force’s half but, nonetheless, the referees called play on and NSW rolled their sleeves up to deliver a knockout blow. Tom Staniforth crossed from close range for a five-pointer and, at that moment, the Force knew they’d be struggling to wrestle back momentum.
“Karmichael has been gold,” Penney said. “He seems that he’s got a deep desire to continue and that’s what we want to see. He contributed tonight as part of that mature group off the bench greatly. He’s doing everything asked of him.”
It was 1092 days since the Force inflicted ultimate humiliation on the Waratahs in their final Super Rugby outing before being controversially axed by the Australian Rugby Union. The 40-11 victory was a dead rubber for the Force but their reaction summed up how much it meant to embarrass their east coast rivals.
When Andrew Forrest strode onto NIB Stadium that evening and declared the Force weren’t done, you sensed they’d be back at some stage, with a vengeance.
Having a game already under their belt was a blessing for the Waratahs this time, while the Force may have gone on with it had they been able to build some cohesion in round one.
One player whose attitude Penney can never question is Michael Hooper, whose work-rate was second to none once again. He was a menace at the breakdown, managing a couple of turnovers and was unlucky to not have more, according to captain Rob Simmons.
With the determination of a player still burned by that night in Perth three years ago, Hooper made the most tackles (16) and equal-second most carries (12) for NSW.
COVID-19 painted over the stark reality the Waratahs had been in a major hole. Including their trial match loss to the Reds in Dalby, the Waratahs had registered one victory in their past eight outings under Penney before Saturday.
The youth excuse has bought time but NSW knew they needed to deliver in a polished fashion.
Determination was there in spades for the Force but so, too, for the home side.
Force No.10 Jono Lance, with his resplendent peroxide blond hair, oozed composure and his seniority was there to see with some astute game management, which Sampson praised afterwards.
He and his fellow Force backs passed with conviction. The same could not always be said for their Waratahs counterparts, who seemed afraid in the first half of making mistakes.
Captain Ian Prior’s three penalties created a neat buffer for the Force to go with Byron Ralston’s 29th-minute try down the right edge.
Having barely been in their opponent’s 22, the Waratahs got themselves in the game as Angus Bell dived over for his second Super Rugby try in the 40th minute.
It was one-way traffic in the second half as the sharp boot of Will Harrison and excellent forward platform helped NSW get back in the winner’s circle.
They’ll need to take every drop of that confidence into a clash with the Brumbies next Saturday.
Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald