The resurgent New South Wales Waratahs claimed second spot on the Super 14 ladder and a home semi-final with a crucial 18-11 win over arch rivals the Queensland Reds at the Suncorp Stadium yesterday.
With the Wellington Hurricanes upset by the Auckland Blues on Friday, the door to snatch a home semi-final was opened up and the Waratahs eased through it, despite youngster Kurtley Beale having a poor night with the boot, particularly early on.
Two tries, both in the first half, were enough for the Waratahs to notch up their ninth win of the season and cap a major resurgence after finishing 13th last year.
Snatching a home semi-final is a huge boost for the Waratahs, as they have won all six home games this season.
Waratahs captain Phil Waugh was less than thrilled with his team’s form, but was pleased to secure an important win.
“Wasn’t that pleasing tonight, but we got away with the win,” he said. “We defended well.”
He said the Waratahs needed to lift their game in the semi-final.
“We need to hold onto the ball a bit better,” he said.
A philosophical Reds captain James Horwill said his team had improved this season, despite their lowly finish.
“The boys put in a big effort, but we just didn’t play good enough,” he said. “We have made a lot of improvement this year, but we are still not where we want to be.”
The Waratahs led 12-3 at the break, but a drop goal by Berrick Barnes revived hopes of another Reds upset.
The Reds applied pressure for an extended period as the Waratahs nerves started to jangle, but their defense stood firm.
Eventually Beale, who had been successful with just one of five shots on goal in the first half, found his range and put the match beyond doubt.
In the 64th minute, he slotted his first penalty to extend the Waratahs’ lead beyond a converted try to 15-6.
Three minutes later, he killed off the Queensland challenge when he converted another penalty to have his side up by 12 points.
The Waratahs got off to a solid start when Dean Mumm crossed for their first try in the 22nd minute, which Beale duly converted.
A Reds penalty provided their first points in the 35th minute.
However, the Waratahs extended their lead when Wycliff Palu burst away from a scrum to score a superb try and put them up 12-3 just seconds before the break.
The sole Reds try came well after the final hooter, with Phil Hynes on the end of a Morgan Turunui chip kick and crossing to ensure they would not claim the dreaded wooden spoon, ending their season on something of a high.