In front of a crowd of over 6,000 the Reds won their first trial match for 2013 against the Blues in Toowoomba last night. Interested spectators included Jake White, Laurie Fisher and Stephen Larkham from the Brumbies.
Almost from the kick-off it was evident that we were in for a fast-paced, entertaining game. The Reds looked to get the ball wide early and Radike Samo was prominent in a couple of raids down the right wing in combination with Luke Morahan. However, despite their clear intent to move the ball and attack, the Reds handling was a little rusty and mistakes released the pressure from the Blues.
Whilst the Reds looked the dominant team early on they had some issues with the early scrums that came from their mistakes with a free kick and a penalty awarded against them. On both occasions the Blues took full advantage to drive the ball deep into Reds territory, and from the ensuing lineouts scored two tries that started from driving mauls that weren’t defended effectively by the Reds. The Blues kept the ball tight and the Reds’ defence at the edge of the ruck was loose with too much space between the first and second defenders.
Within 15 minutes the Reds found themselves down 0-14 but then they worked themselves back into the game through dominance at the set piece. The lineout was excellent with Adam Wallace-Harrison dominating and combining very well with James Hanson. Albert Anae really stepped up and was very powerful in the scrum.
The Reds took complete control of the remainder of the first half with the Blues unable to get out of their own half. Whilst the Reds’ handling was still looking a little rusty their combinations and obvious intent to play a fast-paced game created plenty of opportunity. Interestingly, the Reds kept the ball very tight in the opposition 22 and this resulted in three tries to the forwards prior to halftime to leave the score 17-12 to the Reds.
Some comments on players in the first half:
- Albert Anae – very good in the scrum and good around the park.
- James Hanson – one of the Reds best and with the sort of form he showed will really push for the starting role.
- Adam Wallace-Harrison – the best player for the Reds throughout the match – his work at the lineout in both attack and defence was superb and around the field he was prominent, again in both attack and defence.
- Radike Samo – there’s been plenty of speculation that one of the younger players would grab the number eight spot this year with Samo being used off the bench. Samo played like he’d heard the speculation and really put his hand up to keep the youngsters at bay – he was literally everywhere.
- Ben Lucas played very well – it’s very hard to imagine that he won’t be the starting halfback until Will Genia returns.
- Quade Cooper – looked to be back to his best – good control of the game and his footwork was superb – he had very little to do in defence but he didn’t miss any tackles although his goal-kicking was not up to scratch.
- Digby Ioane – looked to be in the sort of great form he showed in 2011.
- Luke Morahan – another who advanced his case for a starting role, big, fast and strong with good footwork and defence.
- Nigel Ah Wong – did some good things and made a couple of little errors but on balance the positives outweighed the negatives – he played better than many of the backrowers thought to be in front of him and I think he may be prominent this year.
- Jono Owen, Blake Enever, Ed Quirk, Ben Tapaui, Anthony Faingaa and Mike Harris were all solid without showing anything out of the ordinary.
The Reds made twelve changes at halftime with only Wallace-Harrison, Enever and Cooper staying on the field.
Interestingly, the scrum performance deteriorated in the second half even though the Reds had brought on James Slipper and Greg Holmes. Kevin Davis replaced Hanson at hooker and the fact that this was his first competitive match at hooker may not have helped the scrum performance. Based on last night’s performance Davis needs to improve his lineout throwing and whilst it’s still early days, the lack of a genuine third hooker may be an issue for the Reds this year if either Hanson or Saia Faingaa suffer injuries.
The game really opened up in the second half with plenty of end-to-end action. The Reds started to look like the Harlem Globetrotters and scored two quick tries off the back of some dazzling attack. Cooper, Rex Tapaui and Jono Lance combined really well in the mid-field and it looked like we may see a cricket score. Having scored five tries in a 30-minute period the Reds had all the momentum.
Then the exuberance of the Reds got the better of them and whilst hard on attack the ball was lost and the Blues took it the length of the field to score a fantastic try. Valiant efforts from Cooper and Lance to get back in cover defence were overshadowed by the fact that they were both barrelled out of the way by the rampaging Blues winger Albert Nikoro. They weren’t on their own and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were seven or eight missed tackles in that one play alone. Lance managed to strip the ball from the Blues and passed it to Cooper, who was swamped by a Blues player who stripped the ball off him to score under the posts.
Within a couple of minutes it was a case of déjà vu with the Reds losing the ball on attack and the Blues again racing the length of the field to score under the posts, bringing the score back to 29-28 to the Reds with 20 minutes to go. Again there were plenty of missed tackles by the Reds as they scrambled to shut the Blues down.
Cooper left the field after 60 minutes. Whilst he missed a couple of tackles and a few kicks at goal, which I see have grabbed the headlines in some publications, I think he and the Reds will be very pleased with the way he went. With him directing play the Reds certainly had some of their 2011 swagger back.
The game then settled down a little and the Reds worked their way downfield to respond with another try to take the score out to 36-28. But the Blues were not going anywhere and responded with another try to again pull within a single point of the Reds, 36-35.
With just four minutes remaining the Reds scored again to take the lead out to 41-35 and that’s how it ended. The Reds scored seven tries on the night with two for Wallace-Harrison and Liam Gill and singles for Hanson, Rod Davies and Samo.
Some comments on players in the second half:
- Holmes, Slipper and Davis – solid without showing much and the set piece wasn’t as good as the first half.
- Liam Gill – good performance and was prominent in both attack and defence.
- Curtis Browning – certainly didn’t look out of place and took his opportunity well.
- Rex Tapaui and Jono Lance – both very good with Lance (who describes himself as the ‘worlds slowest back’) showing more pace than he gives himself credit for and Rex Tapaui showing plenty of potential in attack.
- Rod Davies – showed he hasn’t lost any of his pace and there were some good glimpses.
- Tom Murday, Jarrad Butler, Nick Frisby and Aidan Toua – nothing really to report – no major errors but didn’t stand out.
- UJ Seutini – unfortunately looked out of his depth.
Whilst it was a highly entertaining game the defence of both teams was ordinary at times. The Reds looked like they wanted to really re-establish their attacking credentials and also showed they could play a tight game when that suited.
The crowd and the atmosphere around the ground were really good, the weather was fantastic and it’s great to see some live rugby again.
Overall I expect the Reds will be happy with their first hit-out but will be looking for a slightly more polished performance in their second and final trial next week. I’m told both James Horwill and Ed O’Donoghue will play against the Chiefs, with Saia Faigaa and Ben Daley possibilities.