Rugby was always going to be the winner for the derby between Brisbane City and Queensland Country on a glorious Sunday afternoon at the spiritual home of Queensland rugby, Ballymore. In front of a record NRC crowd of more than 5000 people, it was absolutely mate vs mate, and with the added bonus of the return of Quade Cooper, there certainly was an expectant hum in the air as the McLean stand, and the iconic hill, filled. The sun was shining (for a change at Ballymore) Red Dog and Reds players were there to entertain the crowd, Lachie Turner did his usual superstitious jump to touch the cross bar before the match had started and everyone was talking about QC.
In previous match reviews, I have gone on record as saying that the pack for Queensland Country is solid – they have punched above their weight in their last few matches. However with Greg Holmes missing, from the first scrum and penalty we could see this was a different scrum, and it was missing the power and impact against Brisbane City. City took advantage of early penalties with quick taps and expansive passing, but these were undone by sloppy passes and not reading the play. They dominated possession for the first 10 minutes, but without building phases and taking advantage of their trips into Country’s 22.
The flow of play in the first ten minutes was stop/start as referee Damien Mitchelmore spent considerable time talking to the packs about scrum sets and resests. Brisbane City proved dominant in the scrum, with quick ball out and taking advantage of the fast hands and running of Nick Frisby, Samu Kerevi and Chris Kuridrani. In spite of this, Queensland Country forced a penalty and had a lineout just inside City’s 22 that set up some beautiful play. JJ Taulagi crossed for a try in the 18th minute after fending off Kerevi as he ran along the sideline. Matt Brandon, flyhalf for Queensland Country, missed the conversion.
The forward pack for Brisbane City worked hard, none more so than hooker Andrew Ready who made several breaks throughout the match, shedding defenders and making it over the advantage line, but without support from his backline, it was for naught.
Queensland Country’s Tom Pincus (a favourite of the crowd for his stellar Premier Rugby performances for University) crossed in the 23rd minute after JJ Taulagi drew defenders before flicking a pass to Pincus who evaded Frisby, easily crossing the line. Matt Brandon successfully slotted the conversion.
At this stage of the match Queensland Country were playing with confidence and making the most of their possession, while Brisbane City who still had the lion’s share of possession were not cohesive and squandered their ball. Country’s kicking in general play by Taulagi also gave them the advantage as McIntyre struggled to gain effective metres with his kicking for City. Queensland Country’s scrum however definitely had the wobbles as Brisbane City’s Pettowa Paraka, Andrew Ready and Sef Fagaase kept it low and steady.
Paraka crossed the line for Brisbane City in the 31st minute after a beautiful pick and drive inside the 22, set up by replacement centre Jack Mullins who had come on for Kerevi. Mullins himself fell just short of the line, but Paraka finished it off. Flyhalf Jake McIntyre missed the conversion.
Kerevi made several fantastic breaks following this try, once falling just short of the line. A couple of times he was caught out without support as Brisbane City failed to follow his lead (and his speed).
The scrum woes for Queensland Country worsened as prop Haydn Hirsimaki was yellow carded in the 38th minute for collapsing the scrum.
Country entered half time with a 5-13 lead over Brisbane City – their set piece may have been letting them down, but Country’s passing was more fluid and hitting the right player at the right time – running on to the ball rather than some of the panic passing seen from City. JJ Taulagi certainly was a real advantage for Country with his tactical kicking.
As they went to the sheds, I pondered whether this was the right size pond for Taulagi – he tore it up in Premier Rugby in 2013 and then turned in (or turnstiled) some dreadful performances for the Queensland Reds in 2014. He has some shaky moments in earlier matches, but his kicking and speed off the mark make him a dangerous proposition for defenders. Or perhaps, for him and other players, the NRC is delivering exactly what we want and need it to (as rabid rugby fans who hate losing to anyone) – a stepping stone to transition from club to super level, to hone your skills in bite size chunks rather than the mother of all bites. Seriously, I don’t think anyone butTim Horan mastered the mother of all bites. But, the more I see of NRC, the more I like it.
The second half started with the momentum all Brisbane City’s way – a truly beautiful rolling maul set up a try for hooker Andrew Ready in the 44th minute (albiet not as beautiful as the Bokkes maul last night). McIntyre kicked the conversion successfully to level the scores 13-13.
Liam Gill certainly had it over Beau Robinson in the Reds v Reds flanker face off – he was everywhere – spoiling, breaking the line, tackling like a demon. The crowd however got a little distracted as the one and only Quade Cooper stood up to remove his bib. Was it time for him to take to the field 23 weeks after injuring his AC joint? The answer was yes – he took the field 59′ into the match, replacing McIntyre.
Brisbane City’s forward pack were everywhere as momentum built 15m out from Queensland Country’s line. Frisby drew the tacklers and a quick offload to Kuridrani saw him cross in the corner. 1m in from the sideline and about 40m out, Cooper slotted the conversion and the crowd celebrated – City were up 21-13.
The backline passing for City had settled down (and some may see the irony in that since Mr Mercurial AKA Quade Cooper was on the field) and some fantastic phases were built between Cooper, fullback Brando Va’alilu and Junior Laloifi. Fast ball and fast clear out from Frisby saw replacement forward Marco Kotze cross in the 73′ minute, right under the posts. Cooper had no worries adding the 3 for the conversion.
Brisbane City, now up 4 tries to 2, really settled down to play the full 80 (and we know who could learn to do the same) – they built phases and tried to starve Queensland Country of possession. Their forward pack (and replacement forwards) worked hard to get over the advantage line and players like Kerevi used the ball they got. It is so refreshing to see a player straighten up and run at the line. Every time.
With so many kids and youngers in the crowd today, it was actually the passage of play after the siren that hopefully said the most to them. The siren had sounded but the ball was still in play after Queensland Country fluffed it – several kicks ahead by City players, chased and regathered to kick again saw them gain almost 60m in a few seconds – playing the whistle, not the siren. The passage of play, like the NRC is about taking every opportunity and bloody backing yourself and your team. We lived through the alternative last night – turning it off once you hear the siren, but City didn’t take that path.
Brisbane City claimed the inaugural Andy Purcell Cup in the Queensland Derby and moved into second place on the NRC ladder behind the Melbourne
In the wash up, it was very obvious that Queensland Country were missing Greg Holmes in the scrum, which haunted them most of the match. Hirsimaki is good, but better with Holmes. Frisby had a very solid match – fast to the breakdown and quick passing, mostly straight off the deck. Curtis Browning on his return after injuring himself in the Premier Rugby Grand Final had a solid match, and Quade Cooper made some good attacking moves and was there in defense, giving himself a full shakedown/workout. Anyone else out there want to see him on the bench for the Wallabies in a few weeks time against his/our nemesis the ABs?
The Game Changer
The talking point was definitely Quade Cooper’s return, and while it wasn’t a game changer for this match, I hope his return changes games for the positive down the track.
The G&GR MOTM
Liam Gill – was all over the park – pilfered, made line breaks and was the victim of a few tough penalty calls but still kept going. Kerevi was definitely in contention as well, but I think this match was a victory for the 8 up front.
Players to watch
Campbell Magnay – came off the bench and was good in defense and attack
Andrew Ready – stepped up this match
Score & Scorers
Pettowa Paraka 31′
Andrew Ready 44′
Chris Kuridrano 60′
Marco Kotze 73′
Jake McIntyre (1/2) 45′
Quade Cooper (2/2) 61′, 73′
Jamie-Jerry Taulagi 18′
Tom Pincus 23′
Matt Brandon (1/2) 25′
Cards & citings
Yellow: Haydn Hirsimaki 38′
Yellow: Will Slipper 71′