[Source: Super Rugby News]
The NSW Waratahs will limp into the Super Rugby Pacific finals on the back of a shock 33-24 loss to wooden spooners Moana Pasifika in Sydney.
The previously winless Pasifika crashed Michael Hooper’s farewell party in stunning fashion with a five-tries-to-four boilover victory on Saturday night.
A crowd of almost 20,000 fans left Allianz Stadium disappointed and disbelieving having expected a stylish send-off for the former Wallabies captain.
Playing his last-ever home game for the Waratahs, Hooper instead featured in one of NSW’s most humiliating defeats.
Already certain to finish sixth and playing the Blues in next week’s quarter-finals, the match was a dead rubber.
But the lacklustre loss was still hardly the confidence-boosting performance the Waratahs would have been looking for ahead of a treacherous sudden-death trip to Auckland.
Apart from no Australian team having ever won a finals match across the Tasman, NSW’s record against the Blues in New Zealand makes for grim reading.
The Tahs have won only once at Eden Park in 15 Super Rugby meetings since 1998, they leak an average of 35 points against the Blues in NZ and are riding an eight-match losing streak against the Auckland outfit stretching back to 2015.
Worst of all, the Waratahs endured their heaviest ever defeat to the Blues, 55-21, only last month at Eden Park, albeit with a several Wallabies being rested from that match.
Now Darren Coleman’s side have only a six-day turnaround before trying to pull off somewhat of a rugby miracle on Friday night.
Few players did their Wallabies prospects any good in the stinker, not least Ben Donaldson, one of the slew of hopefuls vying for the hotly-contested five-eighth role.
In one horror three-minute spell, Donaldson failed to find touch from a penalty, kicked out on the full and was penalised for not rolling away from a ruck in the lead-up to Moana’s third try.
But he was far from alone in putting in a shocker on finals week eve.
Moana raced to a 21-7 lead half an hour into the contest with two tries to winger Timoci Tavatavanawai and another to flanker Miracle Faiilagi.
Ned Hanigan’s reply in the shadows of halftime, after Mark Nawaqanitawase’s long-range opening try in the fourth minute, looked to have revived the Waratahs’ fortunes.
But the Pacific Islanders’ fourth try, to former Brumbies and Wallabies playmaker Christian Leali’ifano, on the hour mark, followed by a second Faiilagi five-pointer sealed the Waratahs’ fate.
Hooper’s sole consolation was a try after the fulltime siren, his 27th for the Waratahs – and last at Allianz – in his 141st game for the club.