Reds deny Waratahs in last-round Super Rugby thriller

Darren Walton |

Hunter Paisami (C) was one of four Reds try-scorers in the one-point win over the Waratahs.
Hunter Paisami (C) was one of four Reds try-scorers in the one-point win over the Waratahs.

The Queensland Reds have declared themselves ready for Super Rugby Pacific finals action after condemning the NSW Waratahs to one last deflating defeat with a thrilling 27-26 win over the wooden spooners in Sydney.

The Reds resisted a spirited second-half fightback from the Waratahs to hold on and secure the Bob Templeton Cup in the latest compelling edition of Australian rugby’s longest and fiercest interstate rivalry on Friday night.

Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt was in the stands at Allianz Stadium and might well have put a line through any NSW players he previously had in mind for the upcoming Test season had he left at halftime with the visitors leading 19-0.

The Waratahs’ depleted front-row stocks have been well documented this season, with even former Wallabies prop Paddy Ryan answering and SOS call from outgoing coach Darren Coleman to make a one-off cameo after returning from a stint in Japan.

But the NSW forwards couldn’t be blamed for the Reds running rings around the Waratahs backline in an embarrassing opening 40 minutes for the likes of departing stars Izaia Perese, who is off to the English premiership, and the NRL-bound Mark Nawaqanitawase.

Disappointed Waratahs players.
Waratahs players are left searching for answers after their latest loss to the Reds. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

Tate McDermott’s softest of tries in the 18th minute typified the Tahs’ woeful season.

With the hosts caught napping like schoolboys after conceding a penalty in front of their sticks and expecting the Reds to take a shot at goal, McDermott opted for a quick tap instead and crossed for the easiest try of his career.

His 27th five-pointer also moved the halfback past Samu Kerevi and Scott Higginbotham into third on Queensland’s all-time Super Rugby try-scorers’ list, behind only Chris Latham (41) and Ben Tune (31).

McDermott’s effort followed early tries from classy centre Josh Flook and lock Seru Uru earned the Reds their 19-point lead at the break.

But one last halftime spray from Coleman fired the home side up for a second-half revival.

Not even the Reds’ fourth try in the 49th minute to Hunter Paisami could stop the Waratahs from surging to a 26-24 lead with replies from winger Dyland Pietsch, impressive five-eighth Jack Bowen and forwards Jed Holloway and Jay Fonokalafi.

Alas, the Waratahs’ lead lasted but two minutes as a 48-metre Tom Lynagh penalty goal nudged the visitors back in front.

Bowen, the son of former Waratahs and Wallabies No.10 Scott Bowen, had the chance to steal it but hooked a 79th-minute penalty goal attempt before the Reds defended desperately for more than 20 phases to hold on.

Ironically, the Tahs’ only two victories in 2024 both came against the mighty but fallen defending champion Crusaders.

“It’s a really disappointing season. We had really high hopes,” said dejected NSW captain Jake Gordon.

While the Waratahs’ campaign is over, the fifth-placed Reds will head to Waikato next week to face the fourth-placed Chiefs in a knockout quarter-final.

“Look, we’re ready for it,” said Reds captain Liam Wright.

“We’re going to give it get everything we’ve got.

“We’re going to do a good week of preparation and this just shows the type of footy we can play when we get the ball.”