Super Rugby: Waratahs Waste The Chance To Beat Finals Bound Reds

Michael Hooper looks for an offload in the Waratahs' 14-12 loss to the Reds at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night. Photo: Glenn Nicolls

Michael Hooper looks for an offload in the Waratahs’ 14-12 loss to the Reds on Saturday night
Photo: Glenn Nicolls

by Brendan Bradford –

A 14-12 loss to the Reds at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night pretty much summed up the Waratahs’ entire season. They showed plenty of early promise, built momentum and looked likely at times, but were ultimately undone by untimely mistakes, too much dropped ball and a couple of crucial missed kicks.

The Waratahs relinquished a 12-8 halftime lead through repeated ill-discipline and although they dominated the closing quarter, a succession of handling errors, a missed penalty and a horrible last second drop goal attempt by Berrick Barnes sealed the home side’s fate while the Reds march on to the finals against the Crusaders next weekend.

“I’m obviously very disappointed,” said coach Michael Cheika.

Dave Dennis takes the ball into contact against the Reds Photo: Glenn Nicolls

Dave Dennis takes the ball into contact against the Reds
Photo: Glenn Nicolls

“The first half was punctuated by mistakes and everyone getting back into the swing of things. The second half I thought we did OK, we started to string a bit of play together. Still dropped a bit of ball and gave a few bad passes but through our effort [the Reds] weren’t really in it apart from those two penalties.

“There were opportunities at the end there we should’ve finished, we didn’t capitalise on them and we were made to pay. This year we’ve had a bit of a theme – score more tries (than the opposition) but don’t score our goals. We’re still in the infancy of learning how to win so we’ll need to make sure we can carry those lessons over to next time.”

The Reds took a three point lead courtesy of a Quade Cooper penalty in the eighth minute before a beautiful inside ball from Brendan McKibbin found a rampaging Cam Crawford who put the finishing touches on a well-worked Waratahs team try in the 12th.

Referee Steve Walsh needed the help of the TMO to spot a Nick Frisby forward pass to disallow an early Rod Davies five-pointer, but he should have asked for a second opinion before sending Tahs hooker John Ulugia to the sin-bin for a shoulder charge that none of the 26,037 strong crowd saw – some farewell for the French-bound front-rower.

Cooper was at his mercurial best in the opening quarter, running the Reds’ backline and throwing a 30-metre cut out pass to Ben Lucas lurking alone on the left wing for the visitors’ first try after 20-minutes. Hit and miss as ever though, Cooper attempted a deft inside ball in Waratahs territory which McKibbin intercepted and ran 70-metres before palming off to Berrick Barnes – another Waratah playing his last game – who slid over in the right corner for a 12-8 lead after half an hour.

In the shadows of halftime, Davies was again denied by the TMO when Luke Morahan knocked on after a desperate footrace with Peter Betham for a loose ball and the Tahs maintained their 12-8 lead into the break.

McKibbin missed a penalty immediately after the resumption and Cooper narrowed the gap to 12-11 with another three-pointer five minutes later. The Reds flyhalf splayed his second attempt of the half to the right before regaining the Reds’ lead in the 55th minute when the Tahs pack was penalised for repeated early engagement at the scrum.

Cam Crawford opens the scoring for the Waratahs - Photo: Glenn Nicolls

Cam Crawford opens the scoring for the Waratahs – Photo: Glenn Nicolls

Each side missed another penalty as the Waratahs dominated the closing 20-minutes with the injection of Will Skelton and Ben Volavola off the bench, but terrible handling stifled any attacking chances the home side had.

Michael Hooper came agonisingly close with less than 10-minutes to play – the TMO ruling he knocked-on in a despairing lunge for the line after beating three defenders down the short-side touchline.

Barnes has been the match winner twice this season – against the Brumbies and the Stormers – and had two opportunities to close this one out but hooked a penalty attempt in the 78th minute and rushed an ill-advised, left-footed drop goal effort after the siren in his last play in a blue jersey before heading to Japan.

It wasn’t the finish to the season the Waratahs wanted, but with a host of young talent coming through the ranks, the development of future leaders like Bernard Foley and Michael Hooper and the possibility of Kurtley Beale returning to Moore Park, there will be a great buzz around the club heading into 2014.

Queensland Reds 14 (Ben Lucas try; Quade Cooper 3 pens) def NSW Waratahs 12 (Cam Crawford, Berrick Barnes tries; Brendan McKibbin con)