The Waratahs were undeserved 30-28 winners over the Reds in Brisbane.
With Dean Mumm in the bin, the Tahs somehow produced two tries in the last four minutes to steal the result. Reds captain James Horwill was nearly in tears after the match, and although his side dominated for 77 minutes, the scoreboard is where it all counts. The Reds will know they relaxed when the game was there for the taking.
Before the match, the Waratahs claimed they would discard their boring style which has seen them lose many fans, but it didn’t pay dividends for the majority of the match as five penalties and two late tries were all they could produce. Their execution was clearly lacking, with scrumhalf Luke Burgess’s indecision costing them repeatedly, while they faced a Reds side vastly different to the one in previous years.
Under new coach Ewen McKenzie, who was up against his former side, the Reds were always expected to exhibit more structure compared to their touch rugby approach in 2009. After just 80 minutes on the park it’s clear he’s also supplied a hard edge to their mantra. The Reds will have to learn how to close out matches, but based on this evidence, they won’t be the easy-beats and although this is very early in the season, it just goes to show what a decent coach can do for a side.
Quade Cooper missed an early penalty, but for the remainder he was largely solid in all departments and outshone former team-mate Berrick Barnes, who left the park after an hour.
Barnes opened the scoring, much to the disgust of his former fans who booed him virtually every time he had the ball, but that was the only time the Tahs would hold the lead, until the final siren.
The Reds were fired up – clear evidence was a charge of biting leveled at lock Adam Byrnes halfway through the first half – and then Daniel Braid replied with the first score of the match. Cooper was instrumental, his teasing style drawing and beating defenders in the build-up, and finally the floated pass finding the opensider, who beat a defender to crash over.
The Reds bulked up their pack with Wallabies lock Horwill on the flank, and although it didn’t help at scrum-time – where the Reds took a little strain – it did add some grunt in nullifying the Tahs’ front eight at the collisions.
Leading 10-6 at half-time, the hosts were held up over the line in the second minute of the second half, but Horwill wouldn’t be denied from his pick-and-drive in the next phase. That score granted the pumped-up hosts a nine-point lead, and the disinterested Tahs would need something inspirational to prevent an upset.
Barnes’s boot kept the Tahs in touch, eventually narrowing the gap to three heading into the final quarter. The Reds butchered an opportune chance to seal the result with 20 minutes to go after a Will Genia break, with the final pass going astray. But the Wallabies scrumhalf produced the score that sent to the Suncorp crowd into delirium, his 50m break forcing Ben Mowen to infringe illegally and deliberately hit the ball into touch.
With the assistance of the TMO, referee Craig Joubert was in no doubt, and the try was rewarded.
At 28-18, it was seemingly game over. When Mumm was yellow-carded, it should have been, but that’s the difference between title contenders and also-rans: they produce when it matters most.
With eight minutes remaining, debutant Rory Sidey finished off, and then Wycliff Palu crashed over under the posts. Daniel Halangahu knocked over the kick and Reds’ hearts were broken.
By Grant Ball