The Waratahs moved to the top of the Australian conference after the bonus-point win and lead the Brumbies by virtue of having more victories in this year’s competition, with both teams on 47 points from 15 matches.
Even if they are pipped to the top spot by the Brumbies in the final round of league matches next weekend, the Sydney-based side will not finish lower than sixth on the Super Rugby table, which is enough to secure their passage to the knockout stages.
The Waratahs ran in nine tries against the worst defence in the competition, with Folau leading the way with his three scores. Flank Michael Hooper, wings Matt Carraro (two) and Taqele Naiyaravoro, centre Adam Ashley-Cooper and fly half Bernard Foley also crossed the try line.
Foley converted five of those scores and kicked a penalty.
The Cheetahs played their usual attacking game as Springbok wing Cornal Hendricks and centre Francois Venter grabbed a brace of tries each to go with a score from flank Boom Prinsloo from a driving maul.
Fullback Coenie van Wyk kicked three conversions and fly half Daniel Marais got another.
Earlier in the day, questionable officiating contributed to the Bulls suffering their fourth defeat on tour and ending their 2015 Super Rugby play-off hopes.
Although South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby rules prohibit coaches from criticising match officials, one would understand if Bulls mentor Frans Ludeke had some choice words following their 21-20 defeat to the Rebels in Melbourne.
“Calls get made in a game and that is how close it is, and it can be costly,” Ludeke said after the match.
“You would like to have clear calls because there is a lot at stake, but it happens week in and week out.”
At the heart of the controversy was a legitimate-looking Burger Odendaal try that the television match official did not allow.
The Bulls coach believes that, had the try been awarded, the match would have swung in their favour because they were gaining ascendency.
“We thought it was over the line, and that was costly because I thought the momentum would definitely have swung back to our side there,” he said.
“We were threatening and going for the line a few times, so it is a pity.”
Ludeke would, however, not lay the defeat at the door of the official, but rather blame his charges’ inability to execute accurately. “It is the story of the season – if you look at a try from Burger where he was over but they couldn’t see it, but they made the call,” Ludeke said.
“That is how close our season was, even with the Hurricanes, but we take responsibility for it and, at the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough.”
In the process, the Bulls slumped to their 11th consecutive defeat abroad and will miss the play-offs for the second year in a row.
“It is a huge disappointment to be winless on the tour, especially when you put in a huge effort every week,” Ludeke said. “It doesn’t show between the four lines, but mentally and physically a huge efforts goes into the preparation for a game like that.”
Ludeke said he still believed he had the right personnel to have challenged for the title, but added that it was a process to get the team pulling in the same direction.
“We accept that it is not good enough. We felt like we had the talent. We had a really good squad of players together,” he said. “There are no excuses, but I’ve learnt in the past few years that it takes time to build that belief in a squad.”
The Pretoria side will now go into their final match of the season against the Cheetahs in Pretoria next Saturday to salvage some lost pride.
Francois Venter (2), Cornal Hendricks (2), Boom Prinsloo
Coenie van Wyk (3), Niel Marais
Israel Folau (3), Matt Carraro (2), Michael Hooper, Taqele Naiyarovoro, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Bernard Foley
Foley (5) Foley
DEADLOCK Franco Mostert of the Lions takes the Stormers head-on during their Super Rugby clash at Newlands last night. The game ended in 19all draw