An oil painting it was not. Still, the Waratahs are back in the winner's circle after slogging it out in a 15-13 win over the Queensland Reds in an interstate derby that failed to scale any aesthetic heights at a wet Suncorp Stadium.
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Folau double helps Waratahs edge Reds
A first half double from Israel Folau has helped the Waratahs take the points in an arm wrestle against the Reds.
That's not to say it wasn't absorbing, even brutal. In a set-piece pitched battle where the Reds tried to drive NSW back over the border through their dominant scrum, returning Wallaby No. 10 Bernard Foley was the difference, slotting a cool penalty deep into the game to edge his side over the line for their sixth consecutive win over the struggling Queenslanders.
Israel Folau also helped himself to a pair of first-half tries for the Tahs, who were desperate to rebound and keep in touch with the Brumbies and Rebels in the Australian Super Rugby conference. The Reds, meanwhile, are none from five this season going into their bye.
It had its moments of fire, with frustration building in the close-quarter combat. A yellow card to Reds hooker Andrew Ready for a stray knee looked questionable but in the end, the home side had more than enough chances to win, fumbling their way to another defeat and losing their way when leading 13-12 with 15 minutes remaining.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson wasn't impressed by the early pounding from the Reds scrum and signalled their could be changes given the improvement when Benn Robinson and Tom Robertson took the field.
But he was rightly impressed with the return of Foley, who pulled all the right strings as his young counterpart Jake McIntyre struggled to keep the Reds heading in the right direction.
"It was a real slog, particularly near the end when the scores were very tight. I thought in the last five minutes, we played quite intelligently, something we hadn't done at times this year. That's pleasing," Gibson said.
"We adjusted late to the fact we needed to play for more field position and pressure. Late on, we adapted and started to get some reward for that.
"(Foley) was really good. On a night where at times our set piece struggled, other times it was really good, you need experienced players on the field to try and find ways to win."
It was costly in terms of injuries, with Rob Horne suffering a suspected broken hand and Tolu Latu a hamstring complaint. But even against a team yet to register a win, it was the kind of victory that could well put the Waratahs back on track this season.
"It's always going to be a bitter, hard rivalry and that's the way you want to play these derbies," said Waratahs captain Michael Hooper.
"It's going to make our season a lot better, it's going to improve us hugely. I don't think with Cheik (Michael Cheika) we had a rainy game. We had to adapt to a new style.
"We've had moments of outstanding play. The game is there. It's just about starting with it. It's a work in progress for us. We're winning games, or have been in games, without really hitting our straps."
For Reds co-coach Nick Stiles there were highs, like the scrum and outright aggression that put NSW on the early retreat, before the seemingly inevitable low which involved Queensland running around in circles when the game was on the line.
He savaged the decision to yellow-card Ready for a knee to the head of NSW reserve hooker Hugh Roach and was convinced Foley had knocked on a quick tap late in the game, although replays would prove otherwise.
"When you look at the opposition hooker and he's in the middle of a scrum, lying on the ground, in a position he shouldn't be, maybe there should be some yellow cards before that point in time as well," Stiles said.
"Andrew Ready was driving forward, he's got no idea where his legs is or the hooker is. Unfortunately, we were in a good position to go for another pushover try."
He said composure under pressure was the key difference between the sides. Unfortunately for the Reds, that's not something that will simply arrive overnight, or this season as McIntyre and halfback Nick Frisby settle into their roles.
"You saw in that first half a very committed performance. We went out and challenged them. We put the Tahs under pressure and it's something we haven't done for a long time," Stiles said.
"It was probably disappointing to get to that last minute of the game where we were in good field position to have a shot at the field goal just to close the first half out. We didn't do that and they ended up scoring a try, that hurt us, and then that last 10 minutes just a lack of composure."
The Reds struck first through a penalty try from repeated scrum offences, giving them a 7-0 lead. But a pair of tries to Folau ensured the Waratahs took a 12-7 advantage to halftime.
McIntyre hit back with a pair of penalties in the second half to give the Reds a one-point advantage, before Foley did what he does so well, delivering under pressure with a late penalty to get the visitors over the line.