The NSW Waratahs have notched a seventh straight Super Rugby victory with a record 34-3 win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.
The Waratahs juggernaut has powered on at Suncorp Stadium but not before the bumbling Queensland Reds exposed a worrying chink in their armour before the Super Rugby finals.
Play-off rivals will have fixed their gaze on NSW’s vulnerable lineout which disintegrated under pressure as they registered a seventh straight victory with a record 34-3 win in the interstate grudge match.
The Waratahs deservedly regained the Bob Templeton Cup with the four-try triumph but better teams won’t let the minor premiers off the hook like the Reds did numerous times on Saturday night.
It was a Kurtley Beale carve-up early with two tries in three minutes to establish an 11-point buffer as their attack was far more clinical and precise than the injury-ravaged Reds backs – missing Will Genia, Quade Cooper and three more first-choice players.
When NSW had clean ball they looked like world-beaters but when the home side had it their execution and decision making let them down time and time again.
It led to the biggest loss to NSW in 19 seasons of Super Rugby and their lowest score at Suncorp Stadium.
But, otherwise, Queensland’s competitiveness rattled the Waratahs in a searching warm-up for their home semi-final on July 26.
Captain Dave Dennis’s lineout calling was sorely missed as they gave up five throws in the first half and several more after the break.
The Reds boast one of the best defensive lineouts in the competition but coach Michael Cheika will have plenty to do to fix the problems in their week off.
“It is (a chink in the armour) but that’s the beauty of it – we have two weeks to take care of it,” skipper Michael Hooper said.
After a frenzied opening five minutes, where they took a 3-0 lead and pulled off a couple of big hits and lineout steals, it was a nightmarish start for the Reds.
Playmaker Ben Lucas injured his knee and left the field.
Then centre Ben Tapuai, one of the very few first-choice players in the starting backline, was concussed as he attempted to tackle Cam Crawford in the lead-up to Beale’s 16th-minute try.
Beale had just gathered his breath from stepping between two forwards to send former Reds fullback Jono Lance over.
But the rest of the first half the Waratahs were forced to soak up Queensland pressure as the Reds’ set-piece dominated, particularly with Sekope Kepu sin-binned for punching fired-up ex-Waratah Beau Robinson.
It was Beale’s second try, starting it with a chip for Adam Ashley-Cooper inside his half, which sealed the result in 55th minute while Nick Phipps put the icing on the cake with a late try in the corner.
Cheika was well pleased with his side’s display, rating it a good warm-up for the play-offs despite the line-out deficiencies.
“That was our smokescreen tonight,” he joked.
“It was pretty terrible. We haven’t had a day like that for a while, so it was a good reminder to us.
“Other teams will be sharpening their pencils.
“But we just need to improve in a lot of areas.”
Queensland’s loss consigns them to a bottom-three finish on the ladder, the area they resided for six seasons before the arrival of Ewen McKenzie in 2010.
Rubbing salt into the Reds’ wounds, prop Ben Daley joined Lucas and Tapuai on their long injury list with a dislocated shoulder that is likely to require surgery.
Coach Richard Graham also lamented a huge error count that included 29 turnovers, and often prevented Queensland getting to a second phase of attack in the second half.
“The game itself was probably a bit of a reflection of the season,” Graham said.