On a balmy February evening, the Reds played in front of a decent crowd at their spiritual home, the sad old man of rugby, Ballymore. They lined up against perennial powerhouse the Chiefs. With both sides being relatively young, would a high scoring encounter be on the cards? Join me for something of a stream of consciousness observation of the game. (Like the teams, I’m saving my best stuff for the season proper).
– The Reds appeared to be pretty close to full strength, bar JP Smith and Izack Rodda in the forwards. The backline looks like Thorn is trying to play big, with Kerevi and Feauai-Sautia in the centres.
– A pretty decent crowd, who by half time resorted to ordering pizzas given there was only one food van operating. Officially announced as 4,821.
– From very early on it was clear the Chiefs were trying to exploit the size of our backs and trying to turn them around where possible. This ended up being a pattern through the entire match, with Feauai-Sautia in particular being targeted. I fear good teams will do this all season if this is the style Brad Thorn wants to play.
– Chiefs score early through Stevenson from a kick chase that went in behind the backs. Conversion makes it 7-0 after three minutes. Another try in a similar vein after 9 minutes through Sullivan and the Reds were already 14-0 down. My poor heart sank.
– Through the first ten minutes, the Chiefs were on another level, rushing up on defence and giving Stewart fits. The Reds had no time in attack and at one point had nearly 15 phases and went no where. The Reds looked sluggish and out of sorts, lacking combinations, which was odd given that bar Hegarty, the whole team had played together in NRC or Super Rugby.
– It was good to see the Reds scrum dominate again, as it has done over the last few years. At one point they had won four straight penalties and had the Chiefs loosehead given a yellow. A fifth penalty soon casme, but yet another handling error meant it all came to naught.
– Having Dave Alred working on the kicking seems to being reaping results- the exits seemed much more organised than in years past, and in the first half at least, kicking in general play was at least followed with a good chase.
– The rest of the half was a bit of a shambles. The Reds dropped ball after ball after ball, with no one player sticking out here. Only some committed defence and Chiefs errors kept the scoreline where it was.
– Halftime arrived and Brad Thorn must have been rummaging around for the sticky spray. At least he would have had plenty of feedback to give the team.
– As is the case in a trial, the second half brought the changes, the entire front row for the Reds came off, as did Moses Sorovi just before the half to an injury.
– The lack of pressure the Reds were creating at the breakdown was a real worry. The openside spot could be one of the Reds real weak spots this season.
– The Reds backs will be having nightmares about the Chiefs kicking after tonight- time after time they were forced to track back and scramble out of trouble.
– It looks like Thorn found the sticky spray at half time, passes started to stick and things looked a little more coherent. The Chiefs replacements looked like they were also pressuring the playmakers a bit less, and the introduction of Paia’aua to inside centre probably put them in two minds a bit.
– In the 49th minute, some sustained ball allowed a rumble downfield which won a penalty near the Chiefs line, from the ensuing scrum, a few plays later Harry Hoopert barged over and converted by Hegarty it was 14-7.
– At this point, the kicking went back to old habits, and after about four aimless kicks to the Chiefs backs with no pressure, it even sounded like a few boos were ringing out of the crowd. At a trial? Have some decorum people!
– After some more scrum penalties down the Chiefs end, after the third one, Tate McDermott cleverly took a quick tap when the Chiefs were clearly expecting another scrum. He darts over, conversion by Daugunu and all of a sudden it is 14 all.
– Just four minutes later, the Chiefs score again from a kick, this time Naivalu got dragged too far across in defence, and a kick pass to Tyler Campbell unmarked made it 21-14 when Stevenson slotted it from out wide.
– With less than ten left, Jack Hardy makes a nice break down the left, backed up by Ruan Smith who neatly played a show and go and got over in the corner. Daugunu missed the kick and the game came to an end with the Chiefs winning 21-19.
– Ill discipline still an issue. Too many silly ruck penalties given away.
– The attack looked more balanced with Paia’aua at 12. I’m not sure Stewart will cope with being the sole playmaker and having him outside gives more options, and makes us more agile in defence.
– Better pressure at the rucks are a must. A really good seven will eat the Reds alive, as the first half especially lacked accuracy in the attacking rucks.
– If the ball is treated with the respect it was in the second half, then the Reds will be a decent outfit. I’m not sure the Chiefs will be close to the top NZ side but the first half especially they dominated things.
– I know it is just a trial but the Reds looked a bit tired and flat. I am hoping they haven’t been tapered out by Brad Thorn yet, given they don’t play until Round Two and that they will look fresher in a few weeks.
– Defensively the team was solid, bar the inability to defend kicks in most of their forms.
– Best players for the Reds in my view- Tate McDermott did well, as did Duncan Paia’aua in the 12 spot. The scrum in both halves was a clear highlight, and should be the basis of a decent platform again in 2019.
Overall: I know it’s a trial but the re-emergence of bad habits was a concern. Discipline, pointless kicking and poor hands all featured and that will certainly still give Brad Thorn some food for thought before the first game.
Chiefs: 21: Tries: Stevenson, Sullivan, Campbell. Conversions: Debreczeni 2, Stevenson 1
Reds: 19: Tries: Hoopert, McDermott, Smith, R. Conversions: Hegarty 1, Daugunu 1
All Photos courtesy of QRU Media/Brendan Hertel)