NSW Waratahs will have to stew on a last-round loss to the Brumbies that could ultimately have cost them a spot in the Super Rugby final.
By losing to the ACT team in Sydney the Waratahs didn’t have a home semi-final and instead had to make the gruelling trip to South Africa.
While Daryl Gibson’s side started in strong fashion on Saturday to take a 14-0 lead after 10 minutes against the Lions in Johannesburg, the home team ran over the top of them to prevail 44-26.
Instead of travelling to Christchurch to play the Crusaders in the decider, the Waratahs will be left wondering how they let a team that didn’t play finals beat them when everything was on the line.
“Of course we always look back on the season and think what if?,” Gibson said.
“For our team we’ve had to battle all year to earn our way to this point with pretty much the same team week in, week out.
“I can forgive our guys for having a tough night (against the Brumbies), they were already in the quarters and achieved one of their goals.
“It’s certainly one thing we’ll look back on and go it could’ve been different.”
While disappointing to bow out to the Lions, NSW made more strides than almost anyone could have imagined this season.
After two years out of finals, including a disastrous 16th place finish in 2017, the Waratahs were clearly the standout Australian team.
Gibson wasn’t looking for excuses in the game against the Lions, which saw them struggle when substitute Damien Fitzpatrick was sin-binned only minutes after coming on in the second half.
The Lions capitalised on the Waratahs being a man down, scoring two tries to build a match-winning lead.
Gibson also wasn’t interested in the altitude factor of playing at Ellis Park.
“It was a team yellow, the Lions had some good pressure on there,” Gibson said.
“A tough one but the game is what it is and for us it was a bit of a turning point, the Lions capitalised well in that period.
“Credit to the Lions. I felt their scrum, lineout maul, at times was overpowering today and they thoroughly deserved the victory.”