Ok, first the standard match report stuff.
The Reds scored a 26-24 win over the Waratahs in a Super 14 trial match played at beautiful Oakes Oval in Lismore tonight. The Tahs scored three tries to two, but it was the Reds option of taking a number of penalty shots at goal that got them over the line. The most significant shot taken was the one by replacement Tim Walsh which he kicked from about 40m out with two minutes left on the clock to take the lead.
So that’s that. Let me try to give a bit more of an insight of how the night panned out. Let’s start with the tries.
Jack Kennedy scored the first try of the night, for the Reds, from a bit of the standard forward pick and drive. Interestingly it came from a free kick to the Reds after they put a fair bit of pressure on a Tah scrum. If I can talk scrums for a bit, the Reds looked ok early but overall I think the Tahs finished up on top. Both teams did a fair bit of disrupting of the other team’s scrum, which I guess is a sign of aggressive scrummaging. But also of a lack of combination. That made it 7-0 with the conversion.
Josh Holmes scored after the Reds were reduced to 14 players after Saia Faingaa was binned for going the niggle in a scrum. With Faingaa gone, James Hanson came onto the field and Reds flanker Lei Tomeki had to watch from the sidelines. From there the Tahs played a bit of phase play before Holmes dashed over for a smart try. So it was soon 7 all, and that’s what it would be at half time.
Next to score was another Tah scrumhalf, Brendan McKibbon. McKibbon did well to back up on the inside of a break made by a Tah team mate. Now the number on the jersey said 23, and the program lists that number as belonging to Paddy Ryan. But Paddy Ryan is a young prop I believe, and this guy looked way to athletic and skillful to be a prop. It was a very handy piece of play. The try made the score 17-13 to the Tahs, after a few penalty goals were interchanged.
Dylan Sigg scored the next try for the Tahs, as it seemed players started to feel the strain of their first game of rugby in a while. It was purely forward play from a lineout and then rolling maul. Very efficient. Tahs up 24-16.
Richard Kingi scored the last try of the game with about four minutes to go. Basically a backline play which saw Morgan Turinui go close, Kingi was there to support and basically picked up the ball from the tackle area and dashed over to score. A cracking kick, with a bit of reverse swing, from Walsh left it 24-23 to the Tahs before the final Walsh penalty.
So that’s the tries, a quick run through of some of the players. Please note, there were a number of players, mostly from the Tahs, who I was not familiar with so won’t be able to comment on them all. Also, without video of the match it is hard to gauge too much, some of the forward battles. But let’s give it a try shall we?
First the champio…sorry, Reds.
Jack Kennedy, as starting Tight Head Prop, actually looked pretty decent. Busy and the scrum was solid enough when he was on. Saia Faingaa didn’t do too much, but it was of note how quickly the Reds were delivering their lineout. Ball out, ball retrieved and then it was thrown in pretty damn quick. Can’t remember any crooked throws from any hooker. Scott Higginbottham did some big hits, very big ones. He showed great mobility and looks a real show for the 8 jersey. His hands do let him down on occasions though. Lei Tomeki was evident early, and looks a tough little nugget of a player. Not a lot of impact, and suffered through Faingaa’s yellow card.
Richard Kingi, was one of the best on field. Very sharp. Quality delivery. Good kicking. Well controlled. Played the full 80 at scrumhalf. Ben Lucas I thought was out of sorts at ten, and I was interested to see he didn’t get any game time at scrumhalf at all. Tim Walsh, the replacement 10, looked a lot better. He really controlled play well and the Reds looked more assured when he was on the field. Outside Lucas in that first half, though, was Anthony Faingaa who I thought was excellent. He pulled off some big hits and outplayed the more fancied Tom Carter. He could be one that pushes for a starting jersey, depending on what happens with Quade Cooper.
Morgan Turinui took a while to get into the match, but looked very impressive in the 2nd stanza. He really did some good things for his outside men. For mine, he’s still a 13 despite a push by some to play one spot in. Both wings, Dom Shipperly and Brando Vaalu impressed. Shipperly has some fancy footwork, whereas Vaalu’s involvement was very good. He showed some handy toe too. Luke Morahan at fullback was ok. Not many chances went his way, and we didn’t get to see much of a kicking game, so the jury is still out here.
As to the replacements? James Slipper was prominent when on, but our scrum wasn’t as solid. Andrew Shaw did some good linking work and although I didn’t see him replaced, looked to be carrying a shoulder injury after the match they may be of some concern. Ezra Taylor looks large yet lean, and showed some mobility, but didn’t get too much of a chance. Laurie Weekes jammed his knee and only played about ten minutes or so. The young blood in that second half backline looked enterprising. Aiden Toua, despite one lapse with his hands, Rod Davies, Ben Tapuai and Blair Connor all showed spark.
To the Tahs, Dan Palmer is a quality player. Very canny, and the thought of him and Benn Robinson together for many years is both scary (as a Reds fan) and salivating (as a Wallaby fan). Dan Fitzpatrick was busy with standing out. I thought Hendrick Roodt was largely anonymous, whilst the other locks in Kane Douglas and Chris Thomson were very involved and productive. Sorry I didn’t watch David Dennis enough, and it is only now looking through the team sheet that I reminded that he was playing. One of the stand outs for the half, though, was young 8 Locky McCaffrey. He looks an old school lock, in the mould of Steve Tynman. Very busy, in tight and loose. Well played.
As I mentioned, Josh Holmes played very well. McKibbon may get a few more plaudits in the write ups to this game as he kicked some points too, but I thought Holmes was excellent. Very good delivery and an upbeat game that you want from your scrummy. Daniel Halangahu looked the very experienced club player he is. Not suggesting that he is not up to this level, just that he was very composed and worked well with the different combinations around him. I thought centres Tom Carter and Rory Sidey were disappointing. Sidey dropped some ball, and both looked rather pedestrian and never really threatened ball in hand. One player that did was winger Peter Betham. Shees, he looks an athlete. Very polished. The Reds kicked away from the giant Nemani Nadolo so Betham got plenty of ball and handled it well. As a result though, Nadolo was quiet and had little impact on the game. Kiwi import Sosene Anesi made the first break of the game, but kicked poorly and wasn’t overly impressive. Reminds me of Nathan Blacklock as a signing. Might get the odd piece of brilliance from him, but will spend a fair bit of time on the bench.
McKibbon was very good when he came on, maintaining the momentum that Holmes started, and the scrumhalf battle was one of the highlights of the match. As I mentioned in the coverage, Luke Holmes looked very decent in his limited time on the field. Many of the other Tah reserves probably won’t get the attention I gave the Reds I am afraid, more due to my ignorance of them than anything else. In saying that Paddy Ryan (if that was him in 23) showed glimpses of something special. Hugh Perret and Dylan Sigg were busy. Tom Azar tried to get things happening out wide. I can’t remember Ben Seymour but he got a run, as did Jacob Woodhouse.
One player who caught the eye of many, was young winger Alex Rokobaro. In one kick chase he had the crowd cheering with his blistering speed, and seemed enthusiastic to get involved. I don’t think we will get to see him come the Super season, but I reckon he will be getting some time with the Aussie 7s team, if he hasn’t already.
After the match both coaches were fairly non-committal, as you would expect after the first trial match of the season. The interesting thing was that whilst Reds mentor Ewen McKenzie expressed some joy as to the new ruck interpretations and how they benefited the attacking team more than the defenders, Waratahs coach Chris Hickey was adament he saw now change to how the rucks were reffed. Perhaps this in itself is one of the problems in rugby – the rules are so open to interpretation, so much so that even opposing coaches have such contrasting views as to how they were applied.
One thing they both agreed on was that both teams needed to do some work at the breakdown. It is fair to say that neither backrow, or more specifically openside, took control of the ruck. There wasn’t a great deal of turn over ball, which could be a positive thing anyway.
Moving on, both teams will start to feed a few more of their name players back into their respective teams in their next trial. The Waratahs are heading to Orange to take on the Fiji Warriors whilst the Reds head home to Ballymore to try their luck against the Crusaders.