Six points separate the four Australian teams with four rounds remaining and only the top side from each conference is guaranteed a home quarter-final.
That appears the only safe finals passage in a low-scoring Australian conference given the next five highest-placed sides, regardless of conference, will fill the remaining five spots.
Coming off a bye, the Brumbies (29 points) still lead the domestic standings but sit eighth overall and 20 points behind the pace-setting Crusaders.
The win moved the Waratahs ahead of the Reds and within three points of top spot in the conference and, critically, they have remaining games against higher-placed rivals Melbourne Rebels and Brumbies.
First they host Argentina’s Jaguares, who are fresh off an upset win over the high-flying Hurricanes in Wellington, while their fate could be decided in their final regular-season game, on the road against the Highlanders.
Coach Daryl Gibson was proud of the side’s fighting qualities amid the distractions of Israel Folau’s sacking then hooker Tolu Latu’s alleged drink-driving offence – which coach Daryl Gibson only learned of at lunchtime on Saturday, just hours before their match.
It was too late to replace Latu, who was influential off the bench, but his future in coming weeks is clouded as the matter is investigated.
“The outcome is very real, it keeps us in a tight conference and well in the fight,” Gibson said of the win against the Reds.
“This team fights, it’s a hallmark of this team.
“I wish it didn’t have to all the time, we put ourselves in positions where we have to. But of course, I’m very proud of that.”
Brad Thorn’s Reds produced some superb rugby but after letting a win slip the coach conceded that the young side might not yet be finals-ready.
“The Rebels didn’t move (after a Friday loss to the Bulls), the Brumbies had a bye, the Waratahs have gone past us,” he said.
“Not that much has changed (on the ladder) but … I know a little bit about finals footy, being amongst it.
“We’ve got some growth to do around what’s needed to get there and be part of it.
“There’s times in games where you take hold, get a hard edge … and get the job done and we’re not at that stage yet.”
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