The Queensland Reds and the Melbourne Rebels travelled to Cairns in Far North Queensland to kick start their respective 2015 Super Rugby campaigns. The Rebels ended up winners 28-13, continuing on from their excellent 2014 pre-season form in a match that was, quite frankly, a tough watch.
Pre-season trials are traditionally cursed with dropped ball, missed passes, skewed kicks and questionable defence. This was pretty much the case in this game, only heightened by the fact that the game was played at a humidity level over 90%.
Whilst the game was promoted as one whereby ‘Super Rugby came to FNQ’, and the Reds did a great job of building the atmosphere around the ground for the 4,234 fans in attendance, the match itself was some way short of that level. The question becomes whether these teams are able to lift their performances to the required standards in the less than two weeks remaining until the competition proper kicks off.
In tribute to a game that was pretty stop start in nature, this review will take the same approach with a collection of (semi) random observations, hopefully covering both teams.
- Rebels were the better team on the night, with greater balance across the whole team. Whilst the Reds dominated the set piece, the Rebels pack still worked well on attack, scoring at least once from a driving maul, and attacking well on the pick and drive. The Rebels backline combined well enough for such an early game and made a number of half breaks and were over the line twice (well, all but) in the first quarter without getting the ball down.
- The Reds pack worked impressively as a unit. They dominated the scrum, albeit with support from referee Rohan Hoffman as the referee whistled up an early storm against the Rebels, most significantly at the scrum where James Slipper worked Laurie Weekes over consistently. Without seeing an actual penalty count, the Melbourne team would have given away at least three times as many as the home team. So much so that a yellow card was probably deserved early on, despite the status of the game.
- There were yellow cards given to both Liam Gill and Nick Stirzaker after a bit of niggle broke out from a scrum. No further action was required post-match.
- The teams were set to go to the half time break pretty close together, with the Reds up 3-0, however a break away try from Tom English when he pick-pocketed the ball from Karmichael Hunt in a two-man tackle, gave the Rebels the first try of the match and the lead.
- The remaining five tries of the game were very Greg Cornelson-esque in that they were scored by forwards (two each to Cruze Ah Nau and Beau Robinson, and one to Tom Sexton) having to run bugger all metres ball in hand.
- Concerns for the Reds were pretty much the same as they were last year. Whilst the set-piece worked very well (driving mauls off the line-out are a legitimate attacking weapon for them), their general attack and defensive alignment were uninspiring.
Time to highlight a few of the individual performances:
- The coaching team are probably still no clearer as to who will play flyhalf, and not in a negative way. Jack Debreczeni started the game and controlled play well and looked dangerous both ball in hand and with the boot. He came off concussed in the first half, however, having crashed into one of his own team mates when set to score. His replacement Bryce Heagerty looked equally impressive and ran dangerously on a number of occasions.
- Jordy Reid made a massive impact from the bench, really bringing a heightened intensity to the Rebels game around the ruck. He was a nuisance in defence and aggressive in attack and his introduction to the game was a real turning point.
- The former Reds added a lot to the backline. Mike Harris started at fullback and ran and kicked effectively. Jonah Placid displayed some of his magic footwork and speed from the wing, enough to suggest he’s a good show to start there when the competition commences. Dom Shippereley started at outside centre and was another who looked dangerous ball in hand and solid in defence.
- Duncan Paia’uau has obviously been a bit of a talking point from this game, and he was always going to be. It wasn’t a fantastic debut for Duncan, at least from an attack perspective. His hands let him down big time, both from a catching and passing perspective. His defence was solid enough however. The Reds don’t have many alternatives in this position unfortunately and you’d think the organisation will back themselves to support Paia’uau in their next trial match, against the Crusaders.
- Karmichael Hunt – don’t worry about him. He’s good. Sure he didn’t tear the Rebels apart, but he did everything he needed to. He got involved, both out wide and in the ruck, tackled aggressively, kicked astutely (both short and long) and looked generally assured at the back.
- The Samu Kerevi-Chris Kuridrani combination that has proved so effective at club level, for GPS, and at NRC level, for Brisbane City, showed some exciting glimpses in this game and may be a factor in Kuridrani securing one of the final wing spots in two weeks time.
- Marco Kotze could be the surprise packet of this Reds (extended) squad. With injury questions being asked around Rob Simmons and Dave McDuling, Kotze’s uncompromising play may yet prove a hardened edge that this impressive pack would welcome. Similarly new recruit, tight head prop Sam Talakai, was another impressive performer and showed enough to indicate he should ably fill the hole left by another injury to Greg Holmes which has ruled him out for nine weeks.
Next up the Rebels take on the Highlanders on Thursday night (5 Feb) at the Harlequins Rugby Club from 6:30pm (Melbourne time) whereas the Reds will host the Crusaders at Ballymore on Friday night (6 Feb) from 7:30pm (Brisbane time). The Reds v Crusaders game is again set to be live streamed by Queensland Rugby at www.redsrugby.com.au (with yours truly behind the microphone).
Reds starting XV:
15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Campbell Magnay, 10 Duncan Paia’uaa, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 Marco Kotze, 4 James Horwill, 3 Sam Talaki, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper [c].
Rebels starting XV:
15 Mike Harris, 14 Jonah Placid, 13 Dom Shipperley, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham [c], 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Caderyn Neville, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Rebels 28 (Cruze Ah Nau 2, Tom English, Tom Sexton tries; Mike Harris 4 conversions) defeated Reds 13 (Beau Robinson 2 tries; Duncan Paia’aua 1 penalty goal) at Barlow Park, Cairns.