Next generation shine as Reds edge Tahs in Super Rugby AU kick-off
Photo: QRU/Brendan Hertel
The next generation of Australian rugby was on show as Queensland Reds edged a much-improved NSW Waratahs side 32-26 in Brisbane to end a seven-year losing streak in the interstate derby, and reclaim the coveted Bob Templeton Cup in the opening match of Super Rugby AU.
Both sides averaged under 24-years-old, with several young talents taking their professional bow. But coming into the clash staring down an 11-game losing streak to their opponent’s from south of the border, it was the Reds who set their stall out early and opened up a healthy 19-7 lead thanks to a dominant scrum and the effervescent Tate McDermott. The Tahs stuck with them and clawed their way back through the boot of Will Harrison, before hitting their straps in the third quarter to lead 23-19.
A fourth try for the home side and another penalty from Harrison levelled the scoreboard at 26-all, and with Taniela Tupou in the bin for the closing stages, momentum looked to be with the Waratahs. However, the discipline that had blighted their performances earlier in the year came back to haunt the visitor’s, eighteen penalties conceded in total and two in the final five minutes giving James O’Connor the chance to slot successive kicks and claim bragging rights for the Reds for the first time since 2013.
There was always going to be the need for both teams to blow away some cobwebs given the enforced hiatus since their last true hit-out. But it was the visitor’s who took their time to settle with some early errors, and a continuation of the poor discipline that had plagued their start to the Super Rugby competition.
A knock-on, a scrum penalty, an overthrow at the lineout, and an offside all contrived to help the Reds within striking distance just five minutes in, and they took full advantage. Brandan Paenga-Amosa executed a wraparound from an attacking lineout with the help of Fraser McReight and fed James O’Connor, whose pass to send Filipo Daugunu into traffic looked suspiciously forward. But with play continuing, Tate McDermott cleared from the ensuing ruck with a pop pass for Liam Wright, who crashed through a gap created by his decoy runners to dive home for the opening try of the new competition.
Former Waratah Bryce Hegarty rubbed salt into the wound with the conversion, but the home side were under their own posts just a couple of minutes later as the Tahs struck back with immediate effect. Rumbling their way upfield through the big boppers they marched inside the 22 with a bevy of powerful pick and drives, and when Harry Johnson-Holmes found himself just a couple of metres out he didn’t need a second invitation to barrel low and find the chalk.
James Ramm and Alex Newsome produced a couple of damaging thrusts as the visitor’s warmed to their task, the latter break only halted by an infringement of the new breakdown law’s, while the Reds lost Angus Blyth to a head knock. But the excitement revolved around the manner in which the contest was being approached by both sides, with the ball singing along the lines at pace, some brutal contact, and plenty of interstate niggle.
What was also apparent was the structural improvements still required in defence from two teams who had managed just three wins from 13 matches between them in the suspended Super Rugby competition. What was great for the neutral viewer was a headache for the coaches as chances came aplenty thanks to a litany of misreads, spacing and poor communication, and it didn’t take much for the Reds to concoct another score, McDermott and James O’Connor combining to send a jinking Daugunu to the corner for a 12-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
A seismic hit from Hunter Paisami on Ramm as the young winger tried to run it back from his own 22 then led to a penalty kicked to touch. And the hosts thought they were in again when Taniela Tupou scooped up to burst through a hole and cross, only for referee Nick Berry to chalk it off for an obstruction.
However, he called play back for a Tahs knock-on and a scrum, and with the Reds pack turning up the heat, in particular the powerful Tupou on Angus Bell, three penalties in succession saw the highly promising 20-year-old sent to the bin. And things got even worse for the Waratahs from the restart, the alert McDermott catching them napping on their own goal line to take a quick tap and sidestep his way inside Johnson-Holmes and Robbie Abel for a third five-pointer before the half hour.
The left boot of Will Harrison reduced the arrears on 33 minutes, the flyhalf slotting a much-needed penalty to give the men in blue a foothold. But they were on the backfoot again soon after, McDermott streaking over halfway and gunning for the line before a superb cover tackle from last man Jack Maddocks saved the day. Or so it seemed.
Having not only made the tackle but turned possession back their way, the Tahs were then guilty of switching off at the back of the ruck as the ball trickled over the goal line and Reds skipper Wright pounced to dab it down for his second. So they breathed a collective sigh of relied when the video playback confirmed ref Berry’s suspicions that Wright had come from an offside position to score. No try.
Given the lack of gilt-edged opportunities they’d created in attack, and the let-off’s they’d been afforded in defence, the Waratahs had to be happy to go to the sheds just six points behind after Harrison punished another breakdown penalty with 3pts after the siren. And they would have been even happier with their start to the second half, some crisp, quick ball stretching the Reds defence and earning another offside penalty to allow Harrison to make it a three-point ball game.
With confidence beginning to course through their veins, the visitor’s suddenly began to flex their attacking muscles, and came up trumps with a well-worked play in the 47th minute to take the lead for the first time in the contest. A lineout just outside the 22 was fed infield for a crash-ball from debutant centre Joey Walton, and after the recycle was swung back wide for Mitch Short to feed Lachie Swinton, the impressive flanker fired a killer pass back inside for the onrushing Maddocks to skip through a scattered and bemused Reds line to go under the posts for a 23-19 advantage.
McDermott then executed the competition’s first 50-22 – a kick that starts outside the 50 metre mark and goes out inside the opposition 22, which offers a lineout to the attacking side – to get the home side back in prime position. But the Waratahs line was looking much tighter and more cohesive, and they fronted up to drive their opponent’s back. Swinton was a standout, good in the loose with a healthy workrate and plenty of carries, and utterly demonstrative in the tackle, although one misread on McReight gave Hegarty a shot at the posts, a chance he passed up.
As the clock ticked over the hour, the rate of attrition and inevitable fatigue was about to be tested. But it was the Reds who kicked for home, arresting the 16 unanswered points they had conceded with a fourth try. The forwards took the plaudits, repeatedly smashing away at a stubborn Waratahs’ goal line defence before working the numbers for no.8 Harry Wilson to blast his way over, and Hegarty added the extras for 26-23.
That momentum took a hit when Tupou, a fantastic player who does play on the edge, was shown yellow for a second late hit on Harrison as he cleared his lines. And the hardy no.10 dusted himself off to slot a terrific kick from the 10 metre line to level the scores.
A breakdown indiscretion, the 15th penalty conceded by the Tahs in the game, soon gave Hegarty a chance to cancel out the 3pts. But again his radar was off, so much so that when Swinton was pinged for offside with five minutes remaining, kicking duties switched to O’Connor, and he duly delivered to edge the Reds in front by three with the clock ticking down.
In the end, it was that ill discipline that cruelled a gallant Waratahs fightback, replacement Tom Staniforth coughing up another penalty for not rolling away – although I’m not sure how he could when he’s pinned by five Red jerseys – and O’Connor cemented a long-awaited victory with another conversion to kick-start the celebrations down Caxton Street.
All up it was a good spectacle, played with the right intent and no little animosity, and was a contest that augurs well for the fledgling competition. Given the level of performance produced by the callow youth across the board and the number of debutants involved, there was plenty of reason for some rare optimism and positivity around Australian rugby after what has been a horror show of a year for the sport thus far.
More of the same please.
QUEENSLAND REDS 32 (Liam Wright, Filipo Daugunu, Tate McDermott, Harry Wilson tries; Bryce Hegarty 3 cons, James O’Connor 2 pens) defeated NSW WARATAHS 26 (Harry Johnson-Holmes, Jack Maddocks tries; Will Harrison 2 cons, 4 pens) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. HT 19-13
Queensland Reds: 1. Harry Hoopert; 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa; 3. Taniela Tupou; 4. Angus Blyth; 5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto; 6. Liam Wright (c); 7. Fraser McReight; 8. Harry Wilson; 9. Tate McDermott; 10. James O’Connor; 11. Filipo Daugunu; 12. Hamish Stewart; 13. Hunter Paisami; 14. Jock Campbell; 15. Bryce Hegarty – Replacements: 16. Alex Mafi; 17. JP Smith; 18. Josh Nasser; 19. Tuaina Taii Tualima; 20. Angus Scott-Young; 21. Scott Malolua; 22. Chris Feauai-Sautia; 23. Josh Flook
NSW Waratahs: 1. Angus Bell; 2. Robbie Abel; 3. Harry Johnson-Holmes; 4. Ned Hanigan; 5. Rob Simmons c); 6. Lachie Swinton; 7. Michael Hooper; 8. Will Harris; 9. Mitch Short; 10. Will Harrison; 11. Mark Nawaqanitawase; 12. Joey Walton; 13. Alex Newsome; 14. James Ramm; 15. Jack Maddocks – Replacements: 16. Tom Horton; 17. Tetera Faulkner; 18. Tiaan Tauakipulu; 19. Tom Staniforth; 20. Jack Dempsey; 21. Michael McDonald; 22. Ben Donaldson; 23. Tepai Moeroa