This was a game that all but the diehard fans thought they couldn’t win! But by 3:00 am AEST on Sunday the Reds had achieved the seemingly impossible: they had taken apart the Stormers’ defensive line and beaten them 19–6.
It was the nature of the win that was most impressive. This wasn’t the run-at-all-costs Reds that we had seen in the past, the one that fell apart at crucial moments in the season. The Reds last night were composed. Will Genia and Quade Cooper led them around the field like seasoned 15-year professionals, not the very young men they are. The Reds dominated play at the breakdown, scrum and the tackle. They beat the Stormers at their own game! They played to the opposition’s strengths and put them off their game by doing it! Along the way the Stormers had two players sent to the sin-bin (and a third was lucky not to join them).
The Reds scored one try to nil, so the Stormers walk away with their defensive mojo intact, but the South Africans were never in the game. Things started badly for them with Springbok centre Jean de Villiers forced out with a groin injury. Juan de Jongh is an able replacement but De Villiers is at the top of his game.
The opening exchanges showed that the Reds were here to play and they had slightly the better of the first 10 minutes. Duane Vermeulen was shown a yellow card in the ninth minute for punching! Without the benefit of a replay I thought the binning might be harsh; I had the impression he was trying to knock a Reds player’s arm off his jersey. But I’ve run a quick search through the South African rugby sites and found no evidence of anyone thinking it was anything other than a punch… which leaves me thinking it was fair enough.
The Reds couldn’t take advantage of the extra man and the score was still nil-all when Vermeulen came back on. As soon as he returned Wicus Blaauw stuck his leg out and tripped Will Genia in front of his own goal posts. He was lucky to stay on the field and I think if Vermeulen hadn’t just returned he probably would have had a rest as well. Quade Cooper easily slotted the penalty shot to give the Reds a 3–0 lead. Then Peter Grant was caught holding on and Cooper doubled the score. Next Francois Louw played the ball on the ground and Cooper marked another 3 next to his name. Grant did manage to slot a shot before half-time, but the Stormers must have been worried at the break with the Reds leading 9–3 and clearly dominating the forward battle.
Nothing much changed after the break. The Reds were doing all the attacking and the Stormers’ defence, while brilliant, is not perfect. Their attack is another thing. Without the forward dominance their backline was used to enjoying, the lack of quality ball saw their tactics dwindle away to crash-ball passes and midfield bombs. The Reds’ back three, or four if you count Quade Cooper, ate this up. Luke Morahan looked completely at home in the 15 jersey and Ben Lucas may have quite a job getting it back off him! Given their height difference Morahan probably has to stretch it three sizes bigger anyway.
Halfway through the second half the Reds were caught offside at a ruck and Grant’s boot lifted the Stormers to within three points. Yet the Stormers weren’t really in the match — and any hope of a comeback was smashed five minutes later with Deon Fourie’s sin-binning for tripping. Really a very silly act that they had already been warned for! Cooper restored the six-point gap with his penalty kick and the Reds never looked back.
Seven minutes later Leroy Houston picked the ball up from the back of a five-metre scrum and dished it to Genia, who found Mike Harris on the crash ball. Jaque Fourie couldn’t hold him out. Cooper converted the try to give the Reds a 19–6 lead with the clock ticking down.
This wasn’t the most exciting game I have watched the Reds play over the years, but it may be one of the most important. The players are finding new way to win and their self-belief must be lifting with every win. I can tell you that my Queensland Rugby sporting pride is being restored every week by a team that never stops trying. My rather sheepish prediction of a 5-point win may have been motivated by loyalty. There were some who predicted a forty-point flogging for the Reds this weekend; I never thought that was likely to happen, but I, like many other fans, was more hopeful of a win than confident of one. I’m glad I put my Internet money on the right team.
The Reds now sit on the top of the Super Rugby table with 30 points, alongside the Crusaders. I will cherish that top place for as long as we hold it. The Queensland supporters who have followed their team through the last 10 years deserve it. You know who you are! We’ve watch our team play in near-empty stadiums for years; we’ve woken up at all hours to watch 50-point losses. None of us would have predicted this circumstance even two years ago. Let’s enjoy it. We deserve it!
Next week when we host the Bulls at Lang Park, remember the 90-point drubbing they gave us not long ago. Then remember where we are on the ladder. And then do something a lot of us seem to have forgotten how to do: cheer your guts out for the team you love! Go Reds.
Put his hand up: Will Genia after a slow start to the Year Genia has found his a game. Man of the match performance in a great team performance
Did himself no favours: No one!
Bolter watch: Mike Harris has to be my Bolter! He is a Kiwi and it’s his second start! Had a great game and scored the only reds try.
- Reds Preview: Bashing Your Head Against A Brick Wall! (greenandgoldrugby.com)
- Reds boost McKenzie’s Wallabies claims (news.theage.com.au)
- Dwyer’s View: Super Rugby Tells a Story for Top Nations (greenandgoldrugby.com)
- Super Rugby Preview – Round 8, part 2 (bowlphilosophy.wordpress.com)