The Reds overturned a 14-point deficit to defeat the Western Force 31-24 in their Super Rugby AU match in Brisbane on Friday.
After what could arguably be considered the best game in Super Rugby AU since the start of the competition a fortnight ago, the Force were left wondering how they had squandered yet another early 14-point lead to end up on the losing side.
Unlike most previous matches in this tournament, this contest wasn’t riddled with errors. It was rather a case of both teams making the most of the perfect playing conditions and clinically turning every scoring opportunity into points.
In a fast-paced start to the game, it was the Force who were quickly out of the blocks. Making full use of the width of the field, the visitors’ attack reduced the Reds defenders to bystanders as they raced out to a 14-point lead thanks to two well taken tries by fullback Jack McGregor and wing Byron Ralston.
But instead of retreating into their shell, the early setbacks seems to spark the Reds to life. In an eight-minute Blitzkrieg, the Reds hit back with three unanswered tries to take what would ultimately be an unassailable lead.
The turnaround started when Reds captain Liam Wright, with his team on the back foot and defending in their own half, made a brilliant steal on the ground to launch a scathing counter-attack from which hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa scored.
Not long after, fullback Jock Campbell and prop Taniela Tupou added their names to the scoresheet as the Reds went in front.
Notwithstanding their crappy defence though, the Force looked threatening whenever they were in possession, while their South African export, eighthman Brynard Stander, dominated the breakdown contest. And it was the Reds’ inability to neutralise Stander and the Force hard running game that resulted in a try for the team in yellow right on the stroke of half-time. But Jono Lance’s conversion attempt that would have leveled the scores at 21-all, was charged down from right in front as the Reds took a slender 21-19 lead into the sheds.
In a comparison to the 40-point first half, the second stanza was a much more subdued affair. Wing Filipo Daugunu scored early after the restart when he cut inside from the touchline to wrong-foot two defenders to extend the Reds’ advantage.
After that, the scoring action dried up as neither side proved able to breach the opposition defence. That changed with about 10 minutes remaining when centre Hunter Paisami was sent off for a tip tackle. The Force made the most of the numerical advantage and scored a fourth try. But again, Lance’s conversion attempt strayed wide of the target.
With four points separating the teams, the game was on a knife’s edge in the final minutes. O’Connor, who already boosted a flawless four from four record off the ticking tee, nailed a drop goal to push the Reds out to seven, but that presented the Force with one last opportunity to go in search of a match-tying converted try.
As it turned out, they got close but a knock on at the base of the ruck brought an end to the game.
Reds – Tries: Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Jock Campbell, Taniela Tupou, Filipo Daugunu. Conversions: James O’Connor (4). Drop goal: O’Connor.
Force – Tries: Jack McGregor, Byron Ralston (2), Andrew Ready. Conversions: Ian Prior (2).
Reds – 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Liam Wright (c), 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Angus Scott-Young, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Harry Hoopert.
Subs: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Dane Zander, 18 Jack Straker, 19 Ryan Smith, 20 Tuaina Taii Tualima, 21 Scott Malolua, 22 Josh Flook, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
Western Force – 15 Jack McGregor, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Nick Jooste, 11 Brad Lacey, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Tevin Ferris, 6 Henry Stowers, 5 Fergus Lee Warner, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Angus Wagner.
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Ollie Atkins 20 Ollie Callan, 21 Jacob Abel, 22 Henry Taefy, 23 Kyle Godwin.