SYDNEY – Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has hailed his team's grit for proving there is life after Israel Folau following what he admitted was an emotionally draining week.
The Tahs staged an admirable fightback in their Super Rugby clash against the Melbourne Rebels in Sydney on Saturday evening, winning 23-20 after going into half-time trailing 20-7.
It capped a tumultuous time for the team with their star fullback Folau – Super Rugby's all-time record try scorer – suspended over anti-gay comments that saw Rugby Australia announce its intention to sack him.
He faces an upcoming code of conduct tribunal to determine his fate, with the deeply religious 30-year-old having potentially played his last game for the Waratahs and the Wallabies.
Gibson said the dressing room afterwards was "really subdued".
"Very pleased with the grit that we showed, particularly given the circumstances of the week, it was a real subdued changing room," he told reporters.
"It's a weird feeling. We've won the game, but the boys, the emotion of the week and to come out with a win, it's been good, but it's a strange feeling.
"I just think it's been an emotional week all around and to come out here and perform well, get a win, it's job done, but it takes a lot out of people emotionally and mentally."
In Folau's absence, Kurtley Beale moved into his fullback position and took several high balls with ease, with Karmichael Hunt and Adam Ashley-Cooper marshalling the centres.
Gibson had particular praise for Beale and the way he handled his new role.
"At half-time I said to the boys we'd made two errors off the back of pressure and that was the difference between the two sides. Second half we dominated territory and played very cleverly," he said.
"KB was a standout in that regard for us, I thought he kicked very cleverly and he kept the Rebels out of our area which was critical."
Skipper Michael Hooper also credited the backline for stepping up, notably Bernard Foley who scored a try and kicked five goals.
"We had a game plan there and it sort of wasn't really working, so really, really happy, particularly with Bernard, KB, some our leaders in the backline and how those guys went about their business at half time," Hooper said.
"The direction they gave the whole team to come out in the second half... I sort of sat back at the end of the game and said 'Jeez that was a real step up from some of the backline leaders and really impressive from them'."AFP