The Lions have their first home game of the season following up from a mauling by the Jaguares away last week, while the Reds lost to a Brumbies outfit in a promising, if not inconsistent and at times frustrating performance in Canberra. So with both teams keen to open their account for 2020, it is on with the show.
The game kicked off in conditions (and with a crowd) not dissimilar to those endured by the Waratahs a few hours earlier. A sodden Emirate Airlines Park greeted both teams as rain teemed down.
Early phases saw the Reds get downfield courtesy of a pinched lineout and a couple of penalties, the second of which Bryce Hegarty knocked over for an early 3-0 lead. The Lions quickly hit back off a penalty and a long advantage, with a clever kick in behind from Elton Jantjies putting Tyrone Green over in the corner. Conversion missed and it was 5-3 after 8 minutes of play.
Almost immediately though the Reds hit back, a charged down kick, a pinballing ball, a neat back and forth between Jock Campbell and Tate McDermott put Campbell in under the posts. Hegarty converts and I can’t keep up with the scoring. 10-5 Reds after 10.
Another penalty advantage due to the Reds collapsing a maul led to sustained phases near the line and after several goes at trying to pick and drive, that man Green again dove over the line, this time in the left corner. Jantjies missed the conversion again and it was locked up at 10 all after 17 minutes.
The teams both finally let me catch up with a period of back and forth, with the Reds being the most likely to score and holding most of the possession. The Reds by this time had pinched two Lions lineouts and the scrums were looking pretty good from a Queensland perspective as well.
In the 25th minute a dominant Reds scrum earned their second penalty of the game, which Hegarty knocked over from in front, a good strategy to keep the scoreboard ticking over. 13-10 QLD. The slippery conditions were not very conducive to an expansive game, although the Reds did occasionally try, but without much success. It became clear that this would be a case of who cracked first, and if the ferocious heat of Canberra last week might hurt Queensland in the back end.
A third scrum penalty on their own line relieved some pressure for the Reds around the 30 minute mark, Just before the break the Reds held out on the line very strongly though multiple phases and penalties, eventually losing Taniela Tupou to the naughty chair as the Reds perennial lack of discipline threatened to be their undoing. Almost on the hooter Marnus Schoeman dived over on a maul. Jantjies finally converts one and at halftime it is 17-13 Lions.
The second half began with the Lions desperate to capitalise on another eight minutes with a man advantage, They set up shop down the Reds end then Josh Nasser also saw yellow after coming on to scrum in Tupou’s absence for an early tackle from a lineout. Reds are down to 13 for four minutes and disaster seemed imminent.
Some great defence mixed with some panicked attack saw the Reds hold out for the entire period and it was soon back to 15 each. Worryingly for the Lions it was ten handling errors to one by the Reds after 54 minutes.
Yet another Reds scrum penalty in the 58th minute, and then another saw no Lion sin binned. The Reds took a third scrum off the penalty and Harry Wilson barged over from the back only to be denied by the TMO, but yet another penalty blew. Still no yellow for the Lions. Constant pressure led to many phases and in the end Tate McDermott dove under the posts from close range and with 19 minutes to go it is 20-17 Reds after another Hegarty conversion.
As had been the pattern all game, after one team scored the other almost immediately hit back, and so it was this time, after 20 plus phases, much of it in the Reds 22, eventually space was wide right and Courtnall Skosan dotted down, conversion successful and it was back to a four point Lions lead, 24-20 with just over 11 minutes left.
Another penalty by Jantjies while on attack made it a seven point margin and the Reds, with the benefit of a few fresh legs neatly got over in the 77th minute with a rampaging Tupou linking well only for the ball to spilled as it was thrown around. The Lions managed to eat the clock over the last few minutes and escaped with a 27-20 win.
MATCH TURNING POINT
The game was up for grabs pretty much all game. I would have bet for all money that Tupou’s yellow, followed closely by Nasser’s would be that moment but these Reds are made of sterner stuff. To their credit the second half discipline generally improved and while there aren’t many points in a brave defeat, this was another one of those.
The failure of Jaco Peyper to even warn let alone sin bin a Lions prop after at least six scrum penalties will be a decision that will baffle me for a while yet.
While I am at it, the denial of Harry Wilson’s near try was odd, it certainly looked like it was touching the line and then mysteriously there were no more angles. As it stood, he may have slightly lost control on the way down but it is another of those slightly suspicious SA video calls.
Harry Wilson was immense in his second start. Leading the team in runs, line breaks, 5 tackle busts, and only eclipsed by Jock Campbell for run metres. He was denied a try by the TMO and was generally everywhere. Tate McDermott was a close second with a typical liverwire performance.
Post World Cup is always the most exciting time to watch Super Rugby as we are literally watching the future squad mature in front of us. Jock Campbell, despite probably not even being the Reds starting wing a month ago was immense, looking dangerous in attack and countering with flair.
Taniela Tupou is a coaches nightmare, clearly an immense scrummager but just gives away too many penalties. James O’Connor was quiet and Henry Speight was almost invisible.
Reds – 20
Tries: Campbell, McDermott
Conv: Hegarty 2
Penalties: Hegarty 2
Tries: Green 2, Marnus Schoeman, Skosan
Conv: Jantjies 2
Taniela Tupou got his stint in the chair after multiple team infringements across the half in defence. (39th minute) Josh Nasser also saw cheese for an early tackle in the 44th minute.