Fullback Israel Folau scored a double for the Waratahs against the Rebels. Photo: BackpagePix

SYDNEY – Wallaby star Israel Folau scored a double to spearhead the Waratahs to a free-wheeling 50-23 Super Rugby win over the Melbourne Rebels on Sunday.

Folau put behind his form troubles to be the stand-out player in the Waratahs’ eight tries to three bonus-point victory to close to within four points of the Brumbies in the Australian conference.

The Waratahs led 24-11 at halftime and were in danger of defeat when the Rebels pulled back to 29-23, before the home side rattled on 21 unanswered points.

It was the Waratahs’ 11th win in 13 encounters with the Rebels, who are in limbo awaiting their fate for next year’s Super Rugby competition.

“Izzy (Folau) was special tonight, there’s been a lot made of Izzy this season, so the character of the man to turn up and just want the ball, I’m so happy for him,” Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper said.

“We played some fantastic rugby and some guys really stepped up tonight.”

Wallabies playmaker Bernard Foley also produced an outstanding attacking display to go with his five conversions.

Despite the margin blowing out in the final stages, an unprecedented fifth successive home defeat earlier looked a possibility before three tries in 10 minutes – to Dean Mumm, Ned Hanigan and Folau – spurted the Waratahs a comfortable 13-point half-time lead.

The Rebels threatened a comeback after pulling to within six points when winger Jonah Placid crashed over for his second try. But the Waratahs finished with a flurry as Folau, Hooper and replacements Damien Fitzpatrick and Bryce Hegarty all crossed in the last 20 minutes.

Compounding the Rebels loss, Wallabies centre Reece Hodge lasted less than two minutes before being taken off after colliding heavily with Folau.

It was the first time the 2014 champions had amassed a half-century of points in seven years.

It gets tougher for the Waratahs over the next two weeks with matches in New Zealand against the in-form Highlanders and Chiefs, which is likely to decide their finals hopes.

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