The Queensland Reds clung on for a 14-12 win over the New South Wales Waratahs yesterday to set up a Super Rugby playoff against the Canterbury Crusaders.
The Reds needed a determined defensive effort as Wallabies back Berrick Barnes narrowly missed with a penalty attempt and botched a shot at drop goal after the final siren.
The Reds scrambled home on a try by Ben Lucas and three penalties from Quade Cooper, and will have to travel to New Zealand next weekend to stay alive in the title race against the seven-time Super Rugby champions Crusaders.
The Waratahs led 12-8 at halftime, but failed to score a point in the second half as Brendan McKibbin and Barnes missed four shots at goal between them to throw away an Australian derby victory.
Cooper, controversially passed over by former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans in last month’s three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions, had a mixed night, with a wonderful lofted pass to put Lucas over in the corner in the first half, but also made several kicking errors.
Cam Crawford scored his fifth try in five consecutive outings for the Waratahs in the 12th minute before Lucas put the Reds in front 8-7 midway through the opening half.
The Waratahs were reduced to 12 men when hooker John Ulugia was sent to the sin bin after a tackle on winger Rod Davies.
McKibbin latched on to a Cooper pass and broke clear to send Barnes over in the corner to give the Waratahs the halftime lead.
Cooper kicked the Reds to the front with two penalties early in the second half before a concerted finish by the Waratahs threatened to take the game away from them.
However, they defended resolutely with Wallaby open-side flanker Michael Hooper prevented from scoring a try in the corner by a combined Cooper-Frisby tackle.
Barnes missed with a long-range penalty attempt before narrowly missing another one in the final minute. He then scuffed his drop-goal attempt well wide, much to his anguish.
The Waratahs did not help their winning chances, with 15 handling errors and five turnovers.
The Reds are likely to be without flying winger Rod Davies for the rest of the competition after he over-stretched his left knee in a tackle and was helped from the field by trainers in the second half.
It was the Reds’ 10th win of the season, while the Waratahs bowed out with an 8-8 split in Michael Cheika’s first season as coach.