The long awaited opening weekend of Super Rugby AU has completed and with it came a host of twists and turns and plenty of typical Australian rugby. The Reds kicked off the competition by picking up a landmark victory over the Waratahs. Then in game two, the Brumbies and Rebels see-saw’ed their way through eighty minutes before the Brumbies finally decided they would like to win. Rugby highs and lows definitely alive in Super Rugby AU!
REDS 32 vs 26 Waratahs
It had been eleven meetings and seven long years since the Queensland Reds had picked up a win against their major rivals, the New South Wales Waratahs and it was unsurprising to see prior to kick off, predictions were right against them. But us hardy few had confidence in what this Reds team was about to do. It would be no shock to anyone that the Reds scrum and forward pack would be the focal point of their attack and that is exactly how the opening half went about. The Reds captain Liam Wright got his side off to the best start with a try in the first five minutes but it was the Waratahs forwards outside of the set piece that were impressing, young prop Harry Johnson-Holmes hitting back just minutes later. The TMO will be the first name crossed off the Reds Christmas card list after a number of early try opportunities were scrubbed off by the man upstairs. The Waratahs struggled to adapt to the game and were getting hammered with penalties, especially at the scrum, which ended up resulting in the first yellow card in Super Rugby AU. Angus Bell sent to the sidelines for just being dominated. That ten minutes proved profitable for the Reds with Tate McDermott jumping on some sleepy Waratahs defence from a quick tap. James O’Connor seemed determined to hit a 50/22 or 22/50 kick and was giving them a crack at any opportunity, but ultimately failed all night long. Will Harrison looked composed for the Waratahs at ten, an area Australian rugby needs to find a gem, but his backline was largely ineffective in the opening forty as the Reds led 19-13 at the break.
With some expected hard words spoken at half time ringing in the Waratahs ears, they sparked out of the sheds with points flowing. The Reds lost the favour of the ref and were feeling whats it like to be on the wrong side of the penalty count. Constantly over running their ball carrier and then entering rucks in the side was becoming a theme and the Waratahs took the invite with a smile. Two penalties and and converted try brought them into the lead for the first time in the fixture. Jack Maddocks the scorer and by far the most effective player in the backline. The Reds battled into the lead again, with a Harry Wilson try that swung the momentum back on their side. As we reach the critical time in the match with time running down, the Reds started to fall apart again. Taniela Tupou received the second yellow of the match for wiping out a kicker twice in quick succession and allowed Will Harrison to tie it all up from the tee. Hamish Stewart was surprisingly strong with ball in hand, but was coming unstuck late off the tee, missing two penalties that could have put the Reds back in the lead. Step up James O’Connor, who had given up on his cute 50/22 kicks since McDermott kicked one first pop, then took over the tee duties and calmly slotted two vital shots at goal in the final five minutes. The Reds straightened up their structure and looked like a side wanting to win and closed the last few minutes out in fine style. The Queensland – New South Wales rivalry is alive once more!
The Reds controlled the majority of the match but often let the Waratahs back in with lapses of concentration. A six point win will give them confidence but they will know there is much better in the tank. Tate McDermott, Liam Wright and Hamish Stewart impressed for the Reds. The Waratahs have the ability to never be completely out of the fight, they showed that again this weekend. Will Harrison and Jack Maddocks were their standouts.
BRUMBIES 31 vs 23 REBELS
Much like with Reds, we knew what to expect from the Brumbies from the start and expected it to dominated a Rebels side light on the big boys up front to compete with it. For the good of rugby’s sake, its nice to say how wrong was I. It all looked like plain sailing early on as the Brumbies hit the lead in a couple of minutes from a clinical lineout move with the profits going to Andy Muirhead. Not quite the rolling maul, but some clever backs play was a refreshing sight. The Rebels had some surprises up their sleeves however and the Brumbies fell into the hole of making plenty of errors. The Rebels starting getting scrum penalties and eyebrows were raised and Brumbies confidence clearly took a hit. They stayed calm and looked to the experience of Matt To’omua to put points on the board. There was long periods in this half where both sides struggled to put phases together and the rustiness of the first game back was in plain sight as the match sat stagnant between 22’s for the core of the half. As the half wore on the Brumbies finally decided to go to what they know, yes that’s right, the rolling maul. What a money maker that thing is and two late tries in the first half proved what a vital weapon it is. Joe Powell and the try scoring hooker, Folau Fainga’a, both touched down before the break to put the Brumbies in full control at 19-6 as the two sides headed to the sheds.
Down by 13 points the Rebels looked out of ideas, out of leaders and like lost boy scouts in a massive forest. The home side took more points as Noah Lolesio cut through some average defence and set Tom Wright free and boosted the lead out to 24-6. What was to happen for the twenty minutes would be sure to wake even the sleepiest of Australian rugby followers. The changes started impacting off the bench and the Rebels pack mauled over for a try of their own. Something that has not been done against the Brumbies in at least 12 to 18 months of Super Rugby. The wooping and yahooing was back in the visitors voices. That changed the game and confidence was back. The Brumbies started to panic and give away penalty after penalty again, just like in the first half and the Rebels duly obliged. Threatening again with the forwards, the Brumbies over-committed and it left an easy run in out wide for captain Dane Haylett-Petty that was all created from more penalty pressure and easy field territory. Reece Hodge was a little late to the impact party but with his thunderous punt he starting causing issues for the Brumbies who were trying desperately to hang on to their now slender lead. Confusion caused by the new laws of touching the ball down in your own in goal after a kick forced the Brumbies into goal line drop outs and the good territory allowed Matt To’omua to put the Rebel within ONE point off the tee as the game headed into the final ten minutes. Who would of seen this coming when the scoreline was at one point 24-6! While the Rebels tried to keep momentum on their side, the lineout started to fail them when it was most needed and with the Brumbies going back into their shell and keeping everything as tight and compact as they could, the chance finally came. Of course this would not be a Brumbies fairy tale if it didn’t end with a lineout maul, so lets call it just that. The life lifted back into the home side as Will Miller made his presence felt off the bench, scoring in the 76th minute to seal the game for the Brumbies. Yep, off a lineout maul.
Its not often winning sides should be disappointed and the losing side somewhat pleased, but that’s what we got tonight. The Brumbies should be pleased with the performances of Noah Lolesio, Joe Powell and the typical performance from the pack, although no huge standouts from it. It was also an impressive debut from Mackenzie Hansen at fullback. For the Rebels, Pone Fa’amausili put in a good display in the front row, Matt Philip had another standout and the fresh looking Marika Koroibete toiled hard in his work tonight. An uplifting comeback from the Rebels should give them plenty of confidence, but ultimately not good enough over eighty to beat the Brumbies.
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