Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has made a successful comeback as the NSW Waratahs crushed an ill-disciplined Fijian Drua 38-14 to keep their Super Rugby Pacific finals hopes alive.
Hooper played the entire second half in his first outing since suffering a foot injury in Australia's spring tour loss to Eddie Jones' England at Twickenham last November.
The champion openside flanker made an immediate impact but really didn't need to as the Drua proved their own worst enemy at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday night.
The Drua spent half an hour playing a man short after their normally inspirational captain Nemani Nagusa was red-carded for a late and high tackle on Tane Edmed, then halfback Frank Lomani copped a yellow for a third illegal tackle.
The Waratahs punished the Drua immediately after both dismissals, piling on 24 points in the influential duo's absence.
The scores were locked at 7-7 when Nagusa was given his marching orders, after speed machine Vinaya Habosi's lovely counter-attack strike cancelled out Dylan Pietsch's 15th-minute try for the Waratahs.
But Hooper's impressive fill-in No.7 Charlie Gamble capitalised on a NSW driving maul a minute barely after the Drua lost their captain and No.8.
Hooker David Porecki and stand-in captain Jed Holloway also crossed while Nagusa was cooling off to give the Tahs a 24-7 lead that they would never relinquish.
Playing his first match for NSW since the final round of the 2020 Super Rugby AU season, after a stint in Japan with Toyota Verblitz before his injury, Hooper scored less than a minute after Lomani was yellow-carded.
From 31-7 down, there was no coming back for the Drua as the Waratahs climbed to fourth on the table, temporarily at least, before a bye next week, then a trip to Perth to play the Western Force.
DRUA 14 (TRIES: Habosi, Nasove, CONS: Tela 2/2, PENS: Tela 0/1, RED CARD: Nagusa 29' YELLOW CARD: Lomani 42') WARATAHS 38 (TRIES: Pietsch, Gamble, Porecki, Holloway, Hooper, Nawaqanitawase, CONS: Edmed 4/5, Newsome 0/1)
DRUA: 15. Kitione Ratu, 14. Tuidraki Samusamuvodre, 13. Kalaveti Ravouvou, 12. Caleb Muntz, 11. Vinaya Habosi, 10. Teti Tela, 9. Frank Lomani, 8. Nemani Nagusa (c), 7. Kitione Salawa, 6. Joseva Tamani, 5. Sorovakatini Tuifagalele, 4. Isoa Nasilasila, 3. Samuela Tawake, 2. Mesulame Dolokoto, 1. Kaliopasi Uluilakepa
Replacements: 16. Tevita Ikanivere, 17. Haereiti Hetet, 18. Manasa Saulo, 19. Viliame Rarasea, 20. Vilive Miramira, 21. Rusiate Nasove, 22. Peni Matawalu, 23. Napolioni Bolaca
WARATAHS: 15. Alex Newsome, 14. Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13. Izaia Perese, 12. Lalakai Foketi, 11. Dylan Pietsch, 10. Tane Edmed, 9. Jack Grant, 8. Will Harris, 7. Charlie Gamble, 6. Hugh Sinclair, 5. Geoff Cridge, 4. Jed Holloway (c), 3. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2. Dave Porecki, 1. Angus Bell
Replacements: 16. Tom Horton, 17. Tetera Faulkner, 18. Archer Holz, 19. Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 20. Michael Hooper, 21. Teddy Wilson, 22. Jamie Roberts, 23. Triston Reilly