Dom Shipperley snatched a last-gasp try to hand the Reds a 25-21 win over the Waratahs in Sydney.
The Reds failed to cross the tryline for all of 80 minutes as the home defence held firm, but ironically it was a missed tackle in the last play that provided the visitors with a decisive opportunity.
Shipperley set sail from deep within his own half beating some desperate cover defence. His try ensured the defending champions began their 2012 campaign with a massive win against a well-organised Waratahs side.
Up until this piece of individual brilliance, the Reds had looked solid although devoid of their usual magic. Flyhalf Mike Harris did well enough in the absence of Quade Cooper and even goaled six-from-six attempts, but it was an attacking spark the champs lacked as they went into the final minutes trailing the Waratahs 21-18.
The game was all but over following scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius’s try in the 67th minute. The Waratahs showed terrific patience and continuity to move to within striking distance, and the former Cheetahs No 9 subsequently broke from the base and showed his finishing skills in placing the ball on the whitewash. This try was scored during a period where the hosts had dominated everywhere but on the scoreboard, and following Pretorius’s snipe it appeared as if they would hold out until the final whistle.
The Waratahs will lament the late lapse that cost them the game. They had defended brilliantly for large periods, keeping other threatening figures like Will Genia in check. Although they were nailed by referee Jaco Pyper at the breakdown, they competed aggressively and stifled the Reds to the point where the visitors battled to build momentum for much of the contest.
But there were also areas of the game where the Tahs underperformed. In the absence of regular flyhalf Berrick Barnes, Daniel Halangahu kicked four from six. Had he goaled that other conversion and penalty the Tahs would be celebrating a famous home win in a long-standing Australian rivalry.
As it stands, the Reds have begun their campaign with a win, and have done so on the road. Considering the weakness of teams like the Force and Rebels, and the fact that the Brumbies are rebuilding, this is as tough as it gets in terms of the Australian conference. In that respect, the Reds have ticked a big box in their quest to capture Australian honours for the second year running.