MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The New South Wales Waratahs extended their Australian conference lead in Super Rugby by holding off the Melbourne Rebels 31-26 on Friday.
After a four-week break for test rugby, the Waratahs improved their one-point lead over the Rebels to four with two rounds remaining in the regular season. Only the conference winner automatically makes the playoffs. The second-place team is unlikely to have enough points to qualify.
Without suspended fullback Israel Folau, the Waratahs led 17-10 at halftime but fell behind by three points with 15 minutes remaining. They rallied with tries to Ned Hannigan and flyhalf Bernard Foley, who grabbed a match-winning late intercept.
Foley also kicked four conversions and a penalty for 16 points.
Earlier, the Auckland-based Blues beat Queensland 39-16, building an unassailable lead when the Reds were reduced to 13 men by two first-half yellow cards at Eden Park.
Winger Jordan Petaia was sin-binned for a lifting tackle in the 23rd minute and prop Taniela Tupou two minutes later, leaving the Reds with 13 men for eight minutes late in the first half. The Blues scored tries through center Rieko Ioane and hooker Matt Moulds during that period to lead 21-6 lead at halftime.
The Blues, in turn, were reduced to 13 men in the second half with yellow cards against lock Matiaha Martin and replacement Sione Mafileo as the Reds dominated scrums. But the Reds weren’t able to bridge the gap and the Blues posted their first home win of the season.
”The two yellow cards early on certainly didn’t help, but the game was still there,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said. ”We didn’t show smarts with how we approached it. I didn’t think we handled the conditions well at all.”