Queensland Country have kicked off their NRC title defence with a 45-35 win over the Vikings in Canberra tonight.
Doubles to winger Jock Campbell and hooker Alex Casey lead the visitors to a ten point win with the Country forwards leading the way to lay the platform for Hamish Stewart to pull the strings in the seven tries to five win.
Folau Fainga’a tried his best to keep the Vikings in touch with a hat trick of his own but a lack of execution and control in key areas of the field saw the win slip away after leading 14-12 during the first half.
It only took six minutes for Country to open the scoring with a try to hooker Alex Casey from close range after the Country forwards started to make small gains around the edge of ruck.
The Vikings couldn’t get out of their own end and gave Country easy field position with a series of turnovers in their end not helping their cause.
The halves combination of James Tuttle and Hamish Stewart was looking good and getting Country on the front foot easily and they extended their lead with a brilliant kick pass try from Stewart to winger Jock Campbell in the right corner for a 12 point lead after 13 minutes.
This finally jolted the Vikings into action and aided by a series of penalties their way, it was the trusty rolling maul move with Rory Arnold pressing his claims for Wallabies selection next week and combined with Folau Fainga’a for the opening Vikings try.
It only took another five minutes for the Vikings to score again and again off a penalty, they ran a backline move and winger Lausii Taliauli stretched out to score despite the pressure of Hamish Stewart. Hawera’s second conversion gave the Vikings as 14-12 lead.
The Vikings were looking to get on top but a wayward pass from Hawera was snapped up by Jock Campbell and he ran 70 metres untouched to the line for his second try of the game. Tuttle’s simple conversion put Country back in front at 19-14.
On the stroke of half time Country went further in front with Casey bagging his second try of the match as he burrowed over from close range. The Country forwards were looking the better of the two packs as their combinations carrying over from last year proving to be the difference in the first half.
The Vikings opened the scoring in the second half to Andy Muirhead after being sent through a gap by Jordan Jackson-Hope, who had moved into flyhalf after Hawera was replaced by new Brumbies recruit Irae Simone.
The comeback was short lived though, as Country hit back only minutes later to lock Angus Blyth with Country showing off their off loading prowess in the leadup and the margin was restored back to ten points at 31-21.
Country were getting well on top at scrum time with a few penalties going their way and the field position they had was eventually too much pressure and Caleb Timu got the nod from the TMO for the sixth Country of the night as the lead blew out to 17.
There was still life in the Vikings attack and three minutes later Fainga’a joined his counterpart Alex Casey in scoring his second try to bridge the gap to ten points with 15 minutes to go.
With seven minutes later, Fainga’a had his hat trick with another rolling maul try as the margin was reduced to three to give the vocal crowd a grandstand finish.
But again, Country hit back again to keep the Vikings at arms length with replacement Rob Puli’ueva finding the line with only minutes remaining to seal the game as the defending champions ran out 45-35 winners.
Country were camped on the Vikings line around the 60 minute mark and had a 17 point margin that was enough for the win despite a late push from the Vikings
The G&GR MOTM
Hamish Stewart – his combination with Tuttle was obvious and was clam and measured and didn’t appear flustered with the late challenge by the Vikings
Score & Scorers
Tries: Fainga’a 3, Taliauli, Muirhead
Conversions: Hawera 2, Jackson-Hope 3
Tries: Campbell 2, Casey 2, Blyth, Timu, Puli’ueva
Conversions: Tuttle 3, Stewart 2