Reds 25 Waratahs 17
Reds hold off Waratahs
Israel Folau is crunched. Photo: Getty Images
THE Waratahs turned around a 14-point half-time deficit to finish within eight points of a resurgent Reds side to prove they have the legs and smarts to pull off their vaunted new era of attacking rugby in Brisbane last night.
A ropey first half riddled with handling errors put that sinking feeling back in the bellies of Waratahs fans as Quade Cooper and his charging men in red tested any preseason confidence NSW had mustered with two tries and a penalty goal to lead 17-3 going into the break.
But a dose of the blowtorch from coach Michael Cheika in the sheds, and canny substitutions, turned things around for the visitors in the second half, with tries from Israel Folau and Ben Volavola equalising the scores with 20 minutes to go.
A penalty goal and a charging run from the most controversial haircut in Australian rugby, Ed Quirk, put Queensland ahead and kept them there.
But there was much to go on from both sides, the Reds notching a badly needed win after their first-round loss to the Brumbies and the Waratahs proving they are prepared to walk the running rugby talk.
It was the Waratahs who put points on the board first but execution hobbled every early opportunity they worked for. The first half may as well have been a Queensland exhibition match as tries to Dom Shipperley and Ben Tapuai helped put the Reds 17-3 in front at half-time and NSW looked rudderless.
They were holding fast to their new attacking brief but at some cost, with prop Sekope Kepu popping a ball up to Folau when he might have taken it to ground if he'd seen Tapuai lurking nearby. The Reds centre pounced and took off, building a nine-point advantage.
There was intent rising off their shoulders like steam but execution kept bringing them down. The hot, sticky evening may have played a part but the handling errors of some Test-capped forwards were hard to watch.
Brendan McKibbin was an attentive and vocal shepherd but let six points go begging with errant kicks, leaving NSW 14 points behind at the break when they might have trailed by eight. It might not look like much but it's vital in the mental game.
The half-time bollocking from Cheika and old-fashioned luck put the Waratahs back on track early in the second half, with a ball bouncing off Digby Ioane and into the hands of five-eighth Bernard Foley, who passed to Folau for his and NSW's first try of the season.
Foley assumed kicking duties in the second half and converted the five points to put the Waratahs within a converted try of equalising and plenty of time to make up the ground.
But execution hurt again, a flick pass-gone-wrong from replacement centre Volavola crippling a near-certain try before a knock-on from Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell killed an opportunity to counter attack early in the second half.
Volavola wasn't done though, deploying his instinctive talent to weave through defenders and tumble over for a try on his Super rugby debut. Foley nailed the conversion to tie the scores at 17-17 with 20 minutes to go.
A penalty edged the home side three points in front with 10 minutes to go and a barnstorming run from Quirk, who beat five blue defenders, sent Tapuai over for his second try.
It was too great a lead for NSW to answer but the half-time turnaround, plus enough intent to power a small island, should give Waratahs fans heart. Rustiness you can rub out. The heart and smarts are all there.
QUEENSLAND REDS 25 (Ben Tapuai 2, Dom Shipperley tries Michael Harris 2 cons 2 pens) bt NSW WARATAHS 17 (Israel Folau, Ben Volavola tries Bernard Foley 2 cons Brendan McKibbin pen) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Chris Pollock. Crowd: 35,801.