Two late James O'Connor penalties earned the Queensland Reds a first victory in seven years over NSW Waratahs Friday as Super Rugby resumed in Australia after a lengthy COVID-19 enforced shutdown.
Limited numbers of fans were allowed in Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium as the nation slowly reopens after the coronavirus pandemic, and they enjoyed a 32-26 nail-biter in the first live rugby in almost four months.
Brad Thorn's young team headed into the game without Izack Rodda, Harry Hockings and Isaac Lucas, who all left recently after refusing to accept a pay cut, but rose to the occasion in the four tries to two triumph.
They went to the break 19-13 ahead and despite the Waratahs fighting back, came out on top for their first win against their arch-rivals in 12 attempts.
"It feels brilliant, Credit to NSW, that was exactly what we expected, physical and in the end it was a huge contest," said Reds skipper Liam Wright.
"I think we can take away heart from this. We put a lot of passion into that performance, but also some stupid things that nearly cost us the game."
Officially named Super Rugby AU, the tournament, like its counterpart in New Zealand, is filling the gap left after the 15-team southern hemisphere club competition was halted because of the pandemic in March.
The ACT Brumbies, considered favourites, get their campaign underway on Saturday against the Melbourne Rebels while Perth's Western Force, who were axed from Super Rugby in 2017, return to the top-flight in round two.
There is plenty at stake, with new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie making clear the 10-round season is an audition to play for Australia after a host of experienced players called it quits last year.
"Although we're very disappointed with that performance... to lose by six points, two penalty goals, is a marked improvement for us," said Waratahs captain Rob Simmons, whose team has lost seven of their eight games in 2020. "We'll take that and move forward."
- Star departures -
The 'Tahs kicked off with one of its most inexperienced backlines following the departure of Test stars Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Curtis Rona and Adam Ashley-Cooper.
And it showed early on, with the Reds' youthful team dictating.
They went up 7-0 in the fifth minute with Wright barging over from a line-out set-piece and Bryce Hegarty converting.
The advantage didn't last with NSW prop Harry Johnson-Holmes touching down after a 11-phase build-up and Will Harrison adding the extra points.
But the home stepped up again with Wallaby O'Connor in the thick of the action, sending a looping pass to winger Filipo Daugunu who danced over for another Reds try.
The 'Tah's were then caught napping by scrum-half Tate McDermott whose quick tap penalty handed the Reds a third try before a late penalty kick allowed NSW to stay in touch at the turn.
They pulled back another penalty soon after the restart and then took the lead through a Jack Maddocks try.
But Harry Wilson crashed over to put the Reds in front again and set up an exciting finale, with O'Connor's boot proving the difference.