The ACT Brumbies will have to defend their Super Rugby AU crown behind enemy lines with the grand final showdown bound for Brisbane.
The Queensland Reds ensured they will finish on top of the table with a thrilling 24-22 win over the Brumbies at Lang Park on Saturday night.
The dagger? Referee Nic Berry seemed to signal advantage to the Brumbies with seconds remaining when Reds star Liam Wright had his hands in the ruck, when the visitors were peppering the Queensland line. The Reds claimed the ball and Filipo Daugunu kicked downfield. The advantage signal was seemingly forgotten.
A penalty never came, and the boot of James O'Connor proved the difference again as the Reds snuck away with a win in another interstate classic. A month ago Queensland took 78 minutes to hit the lead, this time 77. The final margin was identical.
The Brumbies were on the wrong end of a 15-8 penalty count but didn't get the one they needed, and perhaps deserved, when the game was there for the taking. Asked if he thought his team was getting a fair rub of the green in that department, Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said "I'll need to have a look at that".
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"There were some key moments there where they would scrum for penalty and got rewarded," McKellar said.
"Interesting to have a look at the maul, where we were dominant, and see if it would have been the same. A 15-8 penalty count again, two times more ill-disciplined than the opposition.
"Just disappointed we're sitting here feeling the way we're feeling, because we shouldn't be. We need to review it, but there were some big moments in the second half where we needed to be better.
"When you're up by nine points at half-time, you've got to kick on from that."
The highest ranked team hosts the grand final on May 8, with captain Allan Alaalatoa's Brumbies set to hit the road in search of back-to-back titles.
But he too was left frustrated by the Reds' ability to win penalties at the scrum.
"Well they got penalties for it. Whether they were right or wrong penalties, you can't do much about it," Alaalatoa said.
"We've got to review it and obviously be better heading into next week. We knew coming into this game they pride themselves on their scrum. If you're honest, it delivered for them tonight."
The chance to host the decider would be a huge boost to the Reds' ambitions of winning the domestic title given they are unbeaten in Brisbane since February 2020.
Brad Thorn's side has enjoyed an unbeaten run so far this year and have emerged as the competition favourites in recent weeks. The Melbourne Rebels and the Western Force are both in the hunt for third spot to set up a tantalising final fortnight of the regular season.
The relief and jubilation was clear for all to see on the Reds bench, for again they had come back from the brink to pip the Brumbies.
It was clear the Brumbies had come to play. They looked a shadow of the side that had turned up to Moore Park eight days prior. In fact, they looked themselves again.
Folau Fainga'a struck first off the back of a rolling maul. When Tom Banks intercepted an O'Connor pass and went 70 metres to score, the Reds were staring down the barrel of an enormous task in search of their first home grand final in 10 years.
Yet a 12-0 lead after little more than 15 minutes was hardly enough to make the Brumbies rest on their laurels. Just one month ago they had sacrificed a 17-point start against the same opposition in a game for the ages.
Brutal carries from the likes of Rob Valetini, Cadeyrn Neville and James Slipper kept the Brumbies rolling forward. Darcy Swain put in one of his finest shifts on the Super Rugby scene. Pete Samu [shoulder/neck] and Tom Cusack [hamstring] were strong before picking up injuries.
Ill-discipline began to creep in and the home sides intensity lifted, and if there is one side that thrives amid chaos, it's the Reds. Daugunu was folding attackers in half, Tate McDermott was electric around the ruck, Jordan Petaia traded tries with Brumbies counterpart Tom Wright. Ultimately, O'Connor's late penalty proved the difference.
"Unbelievable, honestly, with 20,000 people here," O'Connor said on Stan Sport. "It's always an awesome game against the Brumbies. It goes back and forward, and I'm just really stoked. We wanted a home final."
AT A GLANCE
Super Rugby AU round eight: QUEENSLAND REDS 24 (Joshua Flook, Jordan Petaia tries; James O'Connor conversion; O'Connor 4 penalties) bt ACT BRUMBIES 22 (Folau Fainga'a, Tom Banks, Tom Wright tries; Noah Lolesio 2 conversions; Nic White penalty) at Lang Park.