Declaring himself “a half-glass full sort of guy”, NSW Waratahs coach Darren Coleman insisted he’d still have a beer and wake up with a smile even after witnessing the most exasperating of defeats from his developing side. Despite dominating possession and territory to the tune of five to one, the Waratahs somehow suffered a 20-16 Super Rugby Pacific loss to the gallant Queensland Reds on Friday night.
Waratahs fans must have walked away from Leichhardt Oval wondering how on earth their team could have lost, especially after Ben Donaldson’s beautifully-executed drop goal had given the Tahs a three-point buffer with 14 minutes remaining. But somehow, with no Taniela Tupou, no Tate McDermott for the entire second half and virtually no ball all game, the Reds escaped with the four competition points after the Waratahs threw the match away.
“I’m more philosophical now. I was gutted at first,” Coleman said. “But we knew this road we’re trying to get to wasn’t going to be easy, that we were going to have little hurdles and we’ll get some really good lessons out of that. We just haven’t figured out the winning part of it yet.”
“But full credit to Queensland, they were potentially like us four or five years ago and they’ve got in a winning habit the past two years and they know how to win. So that’s our goal over the next season – to learn that.”
Winless wooden spooners last year, the Waratahs surely would have upset the 2021 Super Rugby AU champions if only they’d held their nerve in the final 15 minutes. Alas, they couldn’t.
Sublime with both his long and short passing, Donaldson also proved a coach killer. The fly-half missed two critical penalty attempts, committed the cardinal sin of not finding touch late on from another and made some poor, costly decisions when the game was on the line. Reds opposite James O’Connor, by contrast, was perfect with the boot, landing four goals and finding Jordan Petaia with a pinpoint cross-field kick for Queensland’s first try.
“He’ll get better,” Coleman said of Donaldson. “He’s doing five good things and five bad things at the moment. Once he gets up to six or seven, eight out of 10, then he starts becoming world-class. He’s got the ability to do it. He’s just got to get the temperament and mental focus to be able to do it under clutch and key times. But we’re definitely not giving up. We’ll back him for sure.”
Just as Coleman is backing his entire young team. “The fabric of our game is there,” he said. “I’m just pumped they have a go. They’re ripping in, they’re trying their hardest and, at this point in time, it’s all I’ve asked – that they compete and stay in the fight.
“They’re doing that. The next step for us and the NSW public, if they’re going to support us, is just to get that bit more polish and discipline at key times and we’ll turn those close losses into wins. It’s a cliche that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we’re definitely building it.”