SIMON BORCHARDT saw the Reds beat the Waratahs 32-16 in Brisbane to finish top of the Australian conference.
After the Brumbies’ defeat to the Blues, the Reds had to win their final league fixture and score four tries to finish third on the combined log. They achieved their goal, although three of their five tries were a result of mistakes from the Waratahs, who have lost their last eight matches.
The Super Rugby champions will now host a play-off qualifier in Brisbane next weekend against the team that finishes sixth on the combined log, while the Brumbies need the Bulls or Sharks to slip up on Saturday if they are to reach the play-offs.
The Reds made the ideal start to this crucial fixture when a botched lineout saw Will Genia send the ball wide to Scott Higginbotham, who got on the outside of Tatafu Polota-Nau to score in the corner.
However, it was the visitors who dominated possession and territory for the remainder of the first quarter. Berrick Barnes kicked a penalty and Chris Alcock was desperately unlucky not to score a try after charging down Genia’s kick (Dom Shipperley got a boot to the ball just before the Waratahs flanker could apply downward pressure).
Liam Gill scored the Reds second try moments after Tahs prop Paddy Ryan had been sent to the sin bin for a professional foul, but the visitors hit back through Drew Mitchell, who chased down Bernard Foley’s kick into the in-goal area.
While Foley missed the conversion, Adam Ashley-Cooper kicked a long-range drop goal to make it 12-11 at half-time.
But the Tahs imploded again early in the second half when Polota-Nau’s wayward lineout throw was poached by James Slipper, who scored his side’s third try. Five minutes later, Mitchell knocked on inside his 22 after a poor pass from Barnes and Shipperley picked up the loose ball to score the bonus-point try.
Genia extended the Reds’ lead to 18 with a try in the corner, before they were reduced to 14 men when Quade Cooper was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Barnes.
Tom Carter then scored a consolation try for the Waratahs with seven minutes to go, but Harris sealed the win with a late penalty.