The St.George Queensland Reds have battled hard before being edged out 20-13 by the Highlanders in an entertaining Asteron Life Super Rugby clash in Dunedin tonight.
James O’Connor made an impressive debut for the Reds, notching two penalties and a conversion, while No.8 Jake Schatz crossed for Queensland’s only try. The Highlanders also scored one try, to wing Waisake Naholo, with flyhalf Marty Banks’ four penalties and replacement Hayden Parker’s one, proving the difference between the teams.
Reds head coach Richard Graham said his side were disappointed to leave Dunedin with only a losing bonus point, but there were some positives to take from the defeat.
“I am disappointed because we didn’t get the result we came for. The effort of the group was very good but we will be asking ourselves questions like ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ because of the number of opportunities we created yet didn’t capitalise on,” he said.
“We began the game well, but then got sucked into a battle of field position that we lost. We kicked aimlessly at times which allowed them to spend over 60% of the game in our half. We went away from our strategy and got dragged into theirs. They were physical and I give them credit for the disciplined approach they had.
“The set piece was a bit of a lottery. Both teams scrummed well but nothing clean came of it. The lineout not too different if I am being honest.
“Our defensive effort was solid given they had the majority of position and possession. The boys scrambled well and at times had three defenders carrying the ball carrier into touch near our try line. The boys will take a lot of confidence from that aspect of the game.
“It was smart to take the three points at the end of the game to secure a losing bonus point. At the end of the rounds every point counts and you need to accumulate them wherever you can.
“We’ll push hard over the next week to ensure we address some aspects of our game ahead of next weekend.
“We had a few more players available for selection this week and are hoping for more to return ahead of playing New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium next weekend.”
Conditions were perfect under the roof for open Rugby and it was all the Highlanders early on as the Reds were called upon to defend and they found themselves down 3-0 after three minutes through a penalty goal to Banks.
But just two minutes later, O’Connor, starting his first game at flyhalf for the Reds, split the Highlanders defence with a scintillating 60-metre run down the centre of the field.
The Reds continued to attack with lock Marco Kotze stopped just metres short after a powerful burst, before a knock on out wide stopped the promising movement.
The scrum dominance Queensland enjoyed against the Force last week continued in the first scrum with a powerful shove against the feed, winning the Reds a penalty, which O’Connor landed to make it 3-3 on 11 minutes.
Scrumhalf Will Genia was electric, opening up the Highlanders continually in the first 20 minutes as he nearly put Saia Fainga’a over, then he combined with Chris Feauai-Sautia on a long break down the left wing before Chris Kuridrani was stopped metres out on the other sideline.
Two quick penalty goals from Banks made it 9-3 on 24 minutes, before the Reds dominance at scrum time again surfaced, winning a short arm and then full arm penalty in quick succession.
An unlucky second breakdown penalty against returning centre Anthony Fainga’a gave Banks another chance on 32 minutes, but this time he dragged his shot to the left.
Genia then came up with a big play in defence, grounding the ball in goal a millisecond before Naholo to stop a try and keep the deficit to 9-3 at half time.
The Reds were forced into a substitution at half time with Samu Kerevi going off with a corked thigh and 18-year-old Campbell Magnay coming on to the left wing and Feauai-Sautia moving to centre.
The Highlanders started the second half at full steam and captain James Slipper, Kotze and Saia Fainga’a had to combine well to stop a dangerous driving maul inches out from their line.
The Reds then got their hands on the ball and some quick ball movement saw them work their way up field.
O’Connor put the ball into touch metres out from the Highlanders line on 48 minutes and a mistake from the Highlanders saw Genia just held up over the line.
But the Reds were over a minute later. From the scrum the ball squirted out the back and while the defence were worried about Genia, No.8 Jake Schatz dove on the ball and then stood up and strolled over the line to score. O’Connor’s conversion made it 10-9 after 51 minutes.
A fourth penalty goal to Banks made it 12-10 four minutes later as Tom Murday came on for Dave McDuling, after a strong starting debut for the lock, and Saia Fainga’a made way for James Hanson at hooker.
Liam Gill won another important turnover on 60 minutes with Ben Daley coming on soon after wearing his unique “Be Great, Do Good” headgear, this week supporting The Great New Zealand Trek, raising funds for Multiple Sclerosis.
The Highlanders then enjoyed a good spell of possession and Naholo did well to go over in the right corner, despite the best efforts of Lachie Turner, to make it 17-10 with 11 minutes remaining, Parker missing the conversion.
The Reds did well on 75 minutes to stop another try but the Highlanders continued to attack and Parker landed a penalty on 78 minutes, after another Anthony Fainga’a breakdown infringement, to take the score out to 20-10.
A long range penalty from O’Connor in the final minute completed the scoring and earned the Reds a crucial losing bonus point.
Queensland now return to Brisbane where they will take on New South Wales in a huge clash next Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium.
ASTERON LIFE SUPER RUGBY
ST GEORGE QUEENSLAND REDS 13 (Jake Schatz try; James O’Connor 2 penalties, conversion) lost to HIGHLANDERS 20 (Waisake Naholo try; Marty Banks 4 penalties; Hayden Parker penalty) at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin. (HALF TIME: Reds 3 Highlanders 9) (Referee: Glen Jackson [NZL]).