The Waratahs produced a stirring late comeback to take command in the race for top spot in Super Rugby’s Australia Conference, claiming a dramatic 31-26 win over the Rebels despite the absence of Israel Folau.
Australia full-back Folau was controversially banned for the game as punishment for making aerial contact with Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony in the Wallabies’ decisive third-Test defeat last weekend.
Folau’s appeal was rejected and he was forced to watch from the stands as the top two did battle in Melbourne.
For a time, it looked as if he would witness his team-mates slip to defeat in a frenetic contest at AAMI Park.
Tries from Taqele Naiyaravoro and Will Miller, as well as a Bernard Foley penalty, gave the Waratahs a 17-10 lead at the break, but Michael Ruru’s try and three second-half Reece Hodge penalties put the Rebels on course for a victory that would have sent them top.
However, two tries in the space of four minutes turned the contest on its head once more. Ned Hanigan crashed over 11 minutes from time after an interception from Kurtley Beale and Foley then picked off a pass and took it the other way to cross and send the Waratahs four points clear at the top of the conference.
Watching that last 90 seconds like ?
Pic: Getty Images pic.twitter.com/13OJjUzkRl
— NSW Waratahs (@NSWWaratahs) June 29, 2018
Elsewhere, the Blues beat the Reds 39-16 in a contest between two teams playing for pride, Stephen Perofeta scoring 16 points as the hosts condemned the Queensland side to a fifth successive defeat at Eden Park.
Watch the Heineken Champions Cup Final live on RugbyPass throughout Asia and Australia.