It’s probably the closest you could come to being happy with a loss and you’d suspect that’s how the Reds may be feeling after playing some top shelf rugger, missing the out on the win by a whisker, and snagging two bonus points along the way.
Yep, things could be far worse. The Reds are still afloat in the race for the finals having taken 6 points from two games in South Africa and with the prospect of facing the bottom placed team next week, there is reason for optimism.
On the negative side however it is the second time this season the Reds have given up a match winning lead to lose a crucial match. The first was against the Tahs in week one when the Reds problems were largely self-inflicted, but against the Sharks, it was an inability to deal with the physical presence and adapt to the way the game evolved.
The Sharks simply bashed the Reds out of it in the second half using brutally simple forward play after being kept in the game in the first half by a constant stream of penalties from referee Chris Pollock.
The Reds also failed to deal with the Sharks’ tactic of Ryan Kankowski speeding up out of the line two channels wide of the ruck in an effort to disrupt the interplay between Genia and Cooper. This effort paid dividends as Genia didn’t have the same impact on the game as he has in recent weeks.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Sharks’ maul was pretty effective. I’m not sure what the record for a rolling maul is but the Sharks would have given it a shake with one that started near enough to half-way and ended with a penalty on the Reds try-line.
That was pretty much the story of the final 35 minutes. The Reds were stuck in their own half with the Sharks making ground at will. The pressure this built allowed the Sharks to come back from a 12 point deficit just after half time to lead by 9 with ten minutes to play.
The Reds stuck at it however and showed that they are one of the most dynamic attacking teams in the competition with Spuddie Holmes going over in the final stages and Diggers unleashing a 75 metre dash after the siren which nearly stole the match.
Quade Cooper played the best game of his career combining devastating running with accurate passing and a controlled kicking. He defended stoically, scored a try and made three or four clean line breaks in a performance that will have ensured he gets first crack at the Wallabies no.10 jersey.
Another positive was the continuing education of Will Chambers at outside centre. He seems to have sorted out where he needs to be in defence and was able to position himself in attack on both sides of the field, a hard lesson to learn for a league centre.
As I said, it is hard to enthuse too much about a loss however Link was certainly not slitting his wrists either. Speaking after the game he praised the effort of his team but also pointed to where the game was lost
“They were very physical and we didn’t do enough to counter that. They also got away with some things that we were penalised for, but good luck to them.
“It was a contrast in styles of rugby and on the night the Sharks were able to do enough to win. If a couple of things had gone our way it could have been different. But they (the Reds) are a young side and they showed they were prepared to keep attacking right to the end.
“It’s not all gloom and doom. Not too many sides score four tries here and we’ll take two bonus points from it.”
A feature of the Reds this year is that mistakes made in one game have not been replicated in a following onee. The lesson from this game comes in the form of how to deal with a physically dominant pack.
This is a lesson that will serve them well as the finals draw closer.