Waratahs ruin McKenzie's night
Kurtley Beale of the Waratahs in action Photo: Getty Images
The Waratahs set a new Super 14 benchmark for escaping from jail last night by coming from behind - and with one player in the sin bin - in the final minute of their season opener against the Queensland Reds to come out 30-28 winners at Suncorp Stadium.
In a game that was otherwise dominated by Queensland passion, initiation and physicality, the Waratahs were 23-28 down with 11 minutes to go and looking set be on the receiving end of their first loss to the Reds since 2004.
But a barging try by No. 8 Wycliff Palu - who had returned from the blood bin after a head clash with second-rower Will Caldwell earlier - suddenly brought the two sides level at 28-28, with only reserve five-eighth Daniel Halangahu's conversion on the bell need to seal the win.
The image of their former favourite son, Berrick Barnes, punching his fist in jubilation as their win was official would have only made Queensland's pain even worse.
But the look of disappointment and shock on the Reds, who led 10-6 at half-time, belied the reward they otherwise deserved for a game that saw them score three tries to two.
The Queenslanders started the second half with the same intensity and were rewarded with their second try by captain James Horwill at the 43rd minute from the back of the maul. He crashed over to score, leaving the Reds up 15-6 after Quade Cooper's conversion attempt went astray.
It was in an attempt to stop Horwill that Palu and Caldwell clashed heads in their attempt to stop Horwill crossing over.
Until then Barnes had kept the Waratahs in the match with his goal kicking. For the night the former Red kicked four penalty goals and one drop goal.
At the 65th minute, NSW were still only three points down at 18-21 after Halangahu, who had come on for Barnes, potted his first penalty attempt.
But then came the real heart-breaker at the 69th minute - a penalty try awarded to the Reds against NSW reserve flanker Ben Mowen for deliberately punching the ball into touch after a helter-skelter chase with Reds No.9 Will Genia. Converted, the Waratahs were then chasing an 18-28 scoreline.
Amazingly, NSW were still able to stay in the hunt, and their first try by reserve back Rory Sidey, while uncoverted, narrowed the score to 23-28. But as was the case all night for NSW, for every gain there was a loss. And Dean Mumm's yellow card at the 75th minute was their next major blow.
The match was scoreless after 18 minutes, although Queensland had the majority of possession and unleashed a bevy of runs and slick interplay between their support players. But NSW keeping the Reds out was a testimony to their strong defence.
The Waratahs were first to score with the meagre ball they had. Barnes kicked a drop goal in the 19th minute when referee Craig Joubert played the advantage for a Reds infringement. To a chorus of boos from the Reds crowd that Barnes heard all night, his clean kick put the Waratahs up 3-0.
The first half was a volatile affair from the start, as Barnes discovered when Reds loosehead Ben Daley finished off his tackle on him soon after kick-off by throwing a punch at the NSW No.10. Two metres away, a flurry of punches and shoves erupted among the two forward packs.
As expected there was plenty of niggle, and to the Reds' credit they too did well to keep NSW out when they ventured into their half.
The intensity mounted, and appeared to go to excess at the 20th minute - just after Barnes' drop goal - when Joubert stopped play to alert the Reds to an allegation of biting against Reds second-rower Adam Byrnes on Caldwell's finger. Joubert said he had not seen the alleged incident, but asked Byrnes and Horwill to look at Caldwell's finger.
''That's completely unacceptable,'' Joubert said to Horwill and Byrnes. ''If I see it [happen] it's a red card.''
The incident didn't dissuade the Reds though. In the 21st minute Daniel Braid ran from seven metres out and barged through Drew Mitchell and Tom Carter to score.