There was no silver lining to the dark bank of cloud that stretched out over Suncorp Stadium late yesterday afternoon.
The rugby gods denied the Waratahs a face-saving win against arch-rivals the Reds to make it eight losses in a row, 12 for the season and the most depressing end possible to coach Michael Foley’s first, disaster-strewn year at the helm.
Of course there are no rugby gods, just game plans, players and the latter’s execution of the former. And so it was that at the end of an unseasonably warm, humid day in Brisbane, the Reds laid the foundation of a most unlikely second consecutive finals campaign in spectacular fashion and the Waratahs were left staring at the remnants of their own.
And it was just like all the others, which made it all the worse – holding their own in the possession and territory stakes for much of the first half before extending a strapped hand to the home side and helping them on their way to a bonus-point win before a 41,000-strong home crowd.
Only Quade Cooper’s report for a high tackle on Berrick Barnes mid-way through the second half kept Reds fans’ hysteria in check.
Cooper was cited by SANZAR and will appear via video link before the judiciary this afternoon. He could very likely miss the side’s home final on Saturday.
After going into the break one try and just one point down to last year’s Super Rugby champions, the Waratahs had an acute brain explosion, conceding three tries in the third quarter and failing to score any points of their own for a 30-minute stretch in the second half.
Veteran centre Tom Carter salvaged some pride with a try in the 73rd minute but it was that third-quarter capitulation, characteristic of so many of the side’s worst performances this season, that will be remembered.
And it had started so well. Reds No.8 Scott Higginbotham scored the home side’s first try within the first three minutes of the match but the Waratahs settled the jitters to slot a penalty goal and make it 7-3 with less than seven minutes on the clock.
They dominated play for the next 15 minutes but succumbed to their old habit of releasing pressure through their own errors instead of turning the screws on their rivals.
The Reds were dangerous with the ball all night but during the first half the Waratahs defended strongly and kept themselves in the match. A second Reds try to flanker Liam Gill while replacement Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan was in the sin bin made it 12-3 but the Waratahs hung on.
New five-eighth Bernard Foley, who must certainly be a favourite to retain the No.10 jersey in 2013, sent a beautiful grubber kick bouncing towards the corner and Drew Mitchell pounced. Foley converted and soon after fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper closed the gap with a 40-metre drop goal to leave the Waratahs within a point of their rivals going into the break.
Whatever was said in the Waratahs’ dressing room to prepare the side for a second-half lift should never be uttered again. The blinkers appeared to have been fastened on tight as the Reds ran in three tries to end the contest.
For another year NSW supporters must look for a bandwagon which to leap for the finals period.
QUEENSLAND REDS 32 (Will Genia, Liam Gill, Scott Higginbotham, Dom Shipperley, James Slipper tries Michael Harris 2 cons pen) bt NSW WARATAHS 16 (Tom Carter, Drew Mitchell tries Bernard Foley pen Adam Ashley-Cooper drop goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Steve R. Walsh. Crowd: 41,533.