I think the statistic that the Reds have won 4 of the last 5 matches against the Highlanders is both surreal and no representation of the status of these two teams in the 2017 season.
The Highlanders auspicious start to the match undoubtedly caused eye rolls throughout lounge rooms around Australia when the scintillating Naholo crossed within the first 2 minutes as the Reds were caught unprepared.
Some solid play from players like Izack Rodda and the other forwards saw the Reds make ground in the first half, with good possession and field position, but they couldn’t convert much of that to points. Rodda scored out wide to put the Reds on the scoreboard before they went into the sheds at half-time.
Entering the second half, 16 points down and 63% of the possession, the Queensland Reds needed their mostly* young team to dig deep to claw back the deficit. Unfortunately some meandering play from the Reds (and missed tackle from Timu) saw Tevita Le cross near the sideline for the Highlanders’ 4th try of the match.
As the second half wore on the Reds looked a little more raggedy, a little more lost and then the scrum was decimated and a penalty try was awarded. Low point. All was not lost however as they did keep pushing and Alex Mafi benefitted from some great patience in a maul that saw him cross for his first Super Rugby try.
Some seriously impressive play and a brilliant cross-field kick from Sopoaga saw Li just lose control of the ball as he went to touchdown. Gotta say, that decision could have gone either way. Dixon then scored a try that also could have gone either way but the rub went with the ‘Landers this time.
The Reds didn’t look like quitting early and Caleb Timu scored his first Super Rugby try after some skill and balance from Quade Cooper who converted from the sideline. They were unlikely to claw it back from here (particularly with their defense continuing to leak) but the Reds players were clearly hungry.
They lost, but at least they played the full 80′. And a little bit of fisticuffs to end it kind of summed up the Reds’ season – not really much point to it because what mattered they didn’t land. I am sure most of the players were gutted with such an unimpressive season, but there were at least 4 close games they should have closed out. How different the season would have been then.
I think finishing the season with the three try-scorers all playing their first season (Timu’s injury causing him to miss all 2016) and scoring their first tries in this final match showed that perhaps the youth have a future in 2018. Looking forward to seeing them in NRC this year.
* George Smith had a couple of off matches during the season, but generally his form has been very impressive for a 36 year old. He is however the most penalised player of 2017. Of all teams. Not a ladder you want to lead. Kinda sums up the Reds season. Most yellows, most close losses.
The Game Changer
The 41′ try to Tevita Li showed the class of the Highlanders (who are ‘only’ fourth placed at the moment in their conference) and their ability to take minority possession and make maximum mileage.
The G&GR MOTM
Sopoaga controlled the play well and opened up some beautiful space with his kicking. Not revolutionary, but a solid job from a solid 10.
Stephen Moore will struggle to retain his captaincy of the Wallabies for The Rugby Championship – I love the bloke, but he doesn’t have the same grit that he used to and he doesn’t demonstrably lead from the front.
Crowd: Thankful the roof was closed.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Dixon 64′, Li 41′, Hammington 32′, Lentjes 8′, Naholo 2′
Conversions: Sopoaga 4/5
Tries: Timu 67′, Mafi 53′, Rodda 37′
Conversions: Cooper 1/3
Cards & citings