Reds 24 – Japan 17
I have to say from the start that I was surprised with the intensity of this match. The Reds fronted with essentially a Super 14 starting side minus their internationals, and the feeling amongst the crowd was that this would be a bit of a jaunt.
How wrong they were. The Japanese were full on, defensively very staunch and the game was only won by the Reds in the last 10 minutes. The ground was a bit dewy and it was cold…well, not as cold as ‘John Coat’ in Canberra mind. The game was played under international ELV rules – which meant it was a tad stilted but you got used to it after a while. It was great to be back in the bosom of Queensland rugby, albeit with a small crowd and not that much atmosphere.
The Japanese entered this game with a quintet of kimono’d kiwis in their ranks and they led the charge. In particular, their loose forwards Leitch and O’Reilly. Combining with No 8 and captain, Kikutani, they turned over Reds possession about 8 or 9 times at the ruck. Not only turnover ball, but vigorous counter rucking as well.
Their set piece was fairly solid – an area you’d expect we’d dominate? Lineouts were evenly matched, they even had some tall timber….I thought Japanese were small? And their scrum started in one piece but deteriorated a bit later in the game courtesy of Weekes and Daley. In fact, there was hardly a scrum that didn’t collapse and with resets and a plethora of scrum penalties, dragged it out a bit.
The Reds scored first with a try to new No. 10 Dallan Murphy, who certainly looked a bit of a talent, being able to control the game with effective decision making (+ great pass + pace). That was helped by having Lucas inside him who provided a fairly slick service. Japan struck back just prior to halftime, after an early penalty goal, with a converted try to Onozawa.
In the second half the Reds slowly gained some ascendancy with tries late in the match to Higgo, Fetoai and substitute Dom Shipperley – an ‘in and away’ that bamboozled the defence. Japan also scored another converted try in the meantime, with the game finishing after some enterprising attack on their behalf.
The Reds forwards played OK as a unit with the corpulent kiwi Leroy ‘Houston we have a problem’ a bit of a standout. And that problem is, like Andy Powell from Wales, he’s very readable and is becoming a ‘one trick pony’. The tight five did the business and Luafutu’s one-off running worked a treat.
Fetoai was a bit of a handful for the Japanese defence but no-one else really stood out. I did like the look of replacement centre Albert Vuli Vuli…another ‘Volcano’ methinks, although he has Lote’s hair and build, but runs faster…..
The Japanese defensive effort exceeded all expectations with Suntory Sungoliath (and former Highlander) Ryan Nicholas outstanding. Halfback Tanaka was….um….tenacious. Their five eighth’s, Shaun Webb (another from the House of Pain) in the first half and long term Japanese squad member James Arlidge controlled their backline ably.
And finally, the highlight of the evening was the ground announcer reading out the team names over the tannoy. You’d expect him to have a bit of trouble with the Japanese side…and he did. But you would think that he’d know how to pronounce the Reds players names….wouldn’t you? Perhaps this is indicative of what’s happening at this franchise…he fuckin’ didn’t!