Resilient Reds find a way to sink Waratahs in sodden Sydney

LEICHHARDT OVAL -- The Reds lost Taniela Tupou before kick-off, skipper Tate McDermott before halftime, had little ball nor territory, but still found a way to scrounge what may prove to be a crucial victory on the road in Sydney.

The rain didn't stop for the entire 80 minutes on Friday night after what has been a dreary week in Sydney, but it is going to be an even greyer weekend for the Waratahs who will be cursing a lost opportunity.

In a year when NSW are expected to be scrapping for the final spots in the playoffs, the 20-16 loss to the Reds could well come back to the haunt them. Despite having a huge territorial and possession advantage, the Waratahs found multiple ways to waste what should have been a match-winning edge.

Instead, the Reds defended their guts out to improve to 2-0 for 2022 ahead of next week's trip to Perth to face the Force.

"The past couple of years, that's been our DNA, showing up for each other in those tough times," McDermott said of his side's defensive effort. "I think we probably spent a minute in their 22, our attacking zone, so I'm just proud of their efforts.

"We speak a lot about boys not switching off on the inside and there's boys flying through and covering other boys' missing tackles, and there wasn't too many of them either.

"So I'm over the moon with that defensive effort, obviously there's always room for improvement, but just the character the boys showed was impressive."

The match began in entertaining fashion as the Waratahs ignored the sodden conditions to play some enterprising early rugby, but would ultimately come away with nothing for their endeavour. Izaia Perese came close, but was held up by McDermott and James O'Connor in the kind of play that typified the Reds' defensive display.

And Queensland nailed what was virtually their only attacking opportunity of the entire half, O'Connor dropping a perfect cross kick off to Jordan Petaia who scored untouched.

Two early missed penalties certainly didn't help NSW, yet they continued to pound away at the Queensland line and eventually found a way over through No. 8 Will Harris. Despite fumbling the ball at the back of the scrum, Harris was able to regather and beat both McDermott and Angus Scott-Young to score just to the left of the posts.

The teams went into halftime locked at 10-all, but their defensive workloads could not have been any greater with the Reds having made 138 tackles to the Waratahs' 35.

While that statistic evened up after the break, and both teams attempted to better play to the conditions, it was the Reds who, despite a woeful lineout, were able to scramble when it mattered most.

Midway through the second stanza, a lovely short-side play from the Waratahs saw Alex Newsome through a gap, with the fullback then finding Dylan Pietsch, who cut his way back inside several covering defenders. From the next phase, Ben Donaldson threw a huge cut-out pass to James Turner, only for the winger to be forced into touch just short of the corner flag.

Tensions boiled over thereafter, one of a number of such occasions during the match, as the oldest rugby rivalry in Australia threatened to explode.

With a greater flow of possession, the Waratahs took the lead for the first time when Donaldson dropped back into the pocket and calmly slotted a drop goal after 62 minutes.

But where the Waratahs were unable to nail their try-scoring opportunities, the Reds weren't so careless as replacement lock Ryan Smith was able to wrestle the ball onto the line after a sustained build-up under the sticks to regain the lead at 20-16.

With McDermott and Scott-Young both off by that stage, O'Connor found himself as captain once again, his decision not to take the three points and level the scores, and instead to kick for the corner, proving a masterstroke despite the Reds' wobbly lineout.

While the Waratahs had one final opportunity inside the Reds' 22, again their execution let them down and a brave and boisterous, but damp, local crowd headed for the exits wondering what might have been.

Waratahs coach Darren Coleman, for whom this was a first loss since taking over, hopes many of those who overlooked the terrible conditions will be back for another look at his side this season.

Despite the result, Coleman believes the Waratahs are heading in the right direction but admits they have work to do to close out matches, as was the case on Friday night.

"I'm a bit more philosophical now, but I was gutted in there for the first portion," Coleman said. "But we knew this road where we're trying to get to wasn't going to be easy, there was inevitable hurdles. Whether you're a glass half-full or half-empty sort of guy, I think we'll get some really good lessons out of that."

It was certainly a night of learning for Waratahs playmaker Donaldson, who mixed the good with the bad in a performance typical of a player still finding his feet at the professional level.

While the drop goal showed excellent poise, Donaldson lacked similar patience and control in other parts of the match, including a poor cross-field kick when the Waratahs had an attacking line spread across the field and the Reds defensive line back-tracking.

He also missed two kickable first-half penalties, misses that were partly offset when he slotted a difficult attempt from wide out to again level the scores at 13-all.

"As you get older your consistency gets better ...I just think he'll get better," Coleman said of Donaldson. "He's doing five good things and five bad things at the moment, but once they get up to six and seven and eight out of ten, then he starts becoming world class.

"But he's got the ability to do it, he's just got to get temperament and the mental focus to be able to do it in the clutch and key times. But we're definitely not giving up, we'll back him for sure."