Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson says finally breaking their close-match hoodoo shouldn’t be blown out of perspective despite their victory over the Reds being critical to their season.
Despite having lost four games this season by three points or less, the Tahs maintained their composure in the final 20 minutes and fought back to beat the Reds 40-32 to keep their Super Rugby finals hopes alive.
The Reds scored six tries to three and for much of the night looked as though they would break a 10-match losing streak that stretches back to 2013.
But former Waratah Bryce Hegarty’s usually radar boot deserted him and he could manage to slot just one of his six conversion attempts, hitting the post three times and having one kick – from right in front – charged down by a desperate Nick Phipps.
“It’s obviously really pleasing for the boys that we’ve finally won a close one – we’ve had a number of near misses over the last few weeks and the importance of the outcome is very real, it keeps us in a tight conference and well in the fight,” Gibson said.
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“This team fights, it’s a hallmark of this team. I wish it didn’t have to all the time, we put ourselves in positions where we have to. But of course, I’m very proud of that.
“But if Bryce kicks all his goals, the outcome is very different to Queensland.
“So I’m really pleased about the outcome for the boys, they’ve worked hard and had a lot of unrewarded effort, but we’ll keep it in perspective.”
NSW notched an 11th consecutive win as Bernard Foley iced four penalty attempts in the final 21 minutes to ice the match.
Foley finished with a personal haul of 25 points from a try, four conversions and four penalties, kicking eight of his nine attempts.
But it was not all good news for the Waratahs, with the win marred by another off-field scandal, with reserve hooker Talu Latu reportedly charged with mid-range drink driving after being found asleep behind the wheel of a car in Sydney on Thursday morning.
The Waratahs and Rugby Australia released identical statements, saying they had been made aware of the allegations by the Daily Telegraph on Saturday afternoon.
“Rugby Australia’s Integrity Unit is working with the New South Wales Rugby Union to ascertain all of the facts,” the statements read.
It is understood the Waratahs were not immediately informed. The incident is a blow for the Waratahs and Australian rugby in the wake of the Israel Folau saga.
The Reds were left to lament their inability to remain poised in the big moments and while Brad Thorn did not officially concede his team’s season is over, the Reds’ time in the finals wilderness will continue for at least another year.
“I know a little bit about finals footy, making it or being amongst it and we’ve got graft to do to around what’s needed to get there and be a part of it,” Thorn said.
“There was a lot of good footy tonight. You get the emotion of a loss and it’s frustrating letting that slip … it’s just the mindset, that mentality in the back end where you really take control of the game and you get that job done.
“It’s something that we’ll continue to look to improve.”
Reds captain Samu Kerevi underlined the importance of discipline ahead of the match but it took just one minute for the Reds to conceded a penalty, with Foley lining up a shot at goal.
That was unsuccessful but he made amends almost immediately, crossing and then converting his own try after the Reds turned over possession following a shocking pass from Liam Wright.
But when Jock Campbell charged down an attempted clearance from Cam Clark, The Reds were on the attack and despite being denied a try to JP Smith, who seemed to have planted the ball on the line, they were soon over when Angus Blyth burrowed from the back of a ruck to score his first Super Rugby try.
Kerevi may have been under a Waratahs microscope but it could not stop his influence.
He created the Reds’ second try after charging through the attempted tackle of Foley before offloading to Jock Campbell to race away.
The Waratahs regained the lead midway through the half though, awarded a controversial try after the decision was sent to the TMO.
While Kurtley Beale looked to be held up over the line, with Michael Wells seemingly planting the ball, the TMO awarded the try.
But it was the Reds that took the lead to the break after Lukhan Salakaia-Loto pounced on an error from Beale deep in his own half and found debutant Matt McGahan trailing in support, the fullback’s quick hands shifting the ball to Sefa Naivalu who raced over to score.
Another miss from Hegarty sent the Reds to the break up by just a point but they extended their lead soon after halftime, with Chris Feauai-Sautia intercepting a Foley pass and finding Hegarty who raced over under the sticks.
But the see-sawing nature of the match continued, with Alex Newsome coming off his wing looking for work and being found by Nick Phipps, who held his pass perfectly to bamboozle the defence.
Another intercept – this time from a Karmichael Hunt pass – almost led to another try but Clark’s effort to roll Alex Mafi only delayed the five-pointer, with Hegarty racing over from the resulting scrum.
But taking the conversion attempt from such close range led to Phipps charging the ball down.
The Reds would cross once more, debutant Matt McGahan weighting his cross-kick perfectly to find Alex Mafi loitering on the wing and ready to snare his chance. But Hegarty was again unable to convert, while Foley iced the game for the Waratahs, converting four late penalties to but the game beyond reach.
Tries: Angus Blyth, Jock Campbell, Sefa Naivalu, Bryce Hegarty 2, Alex Mafi
Tries: Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Alex Newsome, Michael Wells
Cons: Foley 4
Pens: Foley 4