An injury ravaged St.George Queensland Reds have gone down 34-3 to the high-flying NSW Waratahs in a highly physical Asteron Life Super Rugby clash at Suncorp Stadium tonight, played in front of a season best crowd of 36,205.
The lopsided score line did not reflect the hard fought intensity of the match as the Reds were severely disadvantaged by injuries to key players during the match to the three Bens – flyhalf Ben Lucas (knee), prop Ben Daley (shoulder) and centre Ben Tapuai (concussion).
The Reds put in a whole-hearted performance against the table-toppers with the NSW four tries coming chiefly from long-range breakaways after the Reds had been deep in attack.
Reds head coach Richard Graham was disappointed with the final result of the season.
“I have some mixed emotions tonight. I’m proud of the physical effort and intensity, yet disappointed we weren’t able to apply more pressure through our set piece advantage and general phase attack.
“It was always going to be tough losing the number 10 and 12 inside 15 minutes but we still had enough opportunities we should have capitalised on. We probably needed to go back to a more direct approach and build some continuity.
“The game never gained momentum. Injuries and constant referrals to the TMO meant the contest never got going.
“I thought Scotty (Gale) was impressive. He’ll learn an awful amount from that experience and will be better for it. Sammy (Johnson) also demonstrated some composure under difficult circumstances and will return better for being exposed to a Test standard backline.”
Conditions were once again perfect with the temperature gauge at 17 degrees before kick-off, and no sign of any wind or rain.
It had been a positive week off the field for the Reds with the impressive announcement of members’ numbers passing over 50,000 for the year.
The Reds also had plenty of motivation facing up to arch-rivals NSW and with young flanker Liam Gill getting set for his 50th cap at the tender age of just 22.
There was a nice touch at the start of the game as the Reds players were greeted on to the field by injured members of the squad, such as Quade Cooper, and some of the players’ families.
The build-up worked with the Reds making the strongest possible statement with a superb start – committed in defence and powerful in attack.
It was typified by fullback Mike Harris who after running back a NSW clearing kick was hit in a huge tackle by Kane Douglas. But Harris held on to the ball and got straight up to put the Reds in front on 4 minutes with a well struck penalty goal.
Bernard Foley missed two kickable penalties for NSW soon after as the Reds held on to their early lead.
The Reds had a huge set back on eight minutes as flyhalf Ben Lucas was forced off due to injury. It meant a re-shuffle with Harris moving to flyhalf, and JJ Taulagi coming on at fullback.
NSW took full advantage as the Reds’ backline tried to re-align to score two quick tries through former Queensland fullback Jono Lance and the in-form Kurtley Beale. Foley converted both to put NSW up 14-3 on 16 minutes.
There was another injury setback as the try was scored with centre Ben Tapuai going off with a shoulder concern. This brought young GPS centre Sam Johnson on to join an extremely young-looking Reds backline.
But the Reds dealt with the double setback strongly, first winning a turnover in the Tahs 22 and then a brilliant reverse-flick pass from Taulagi that put Rod Davies away down the right touchline.
Davies dove for the line but the TMO was called upon and the flying winger was ruled to have just failed to ground the ball.
The Reds pack won another superb turnover a minute later and continued to attack through a series of driving mauls close to the line, but somehow NSW held on.
On 29 minutes the Reds gained a numerical advantage as NSW prop Sekope Kepu was sent to the sin-bin for dangerous play after a flare-up.
Flanker Curtis Browning then won another brilliant turnover and the Reds one more went on to the attack. Harris put in a well-weighted chip kick from the lineout win but Samu Kerevi just failed to re-gather.
Foley then landed another late penalty goal to send the teams to the sheds with the Reds trailing 17-3.
James Horwill and Rob Simmons had been superb in the first half dominating the lineouts 12-5, as well as stealing or disrupting five of the NSW throw-ins.
Gill came on for his 50th cap early in the second half, replacing Browning, and made an immediate impact winning an important turnover close to the Queensland line.
Taulagi then again split the NSW defence with a scything counter-attack but he just failed to re-gather his grubber kick and Adam Ashley-Cooper cleared.
Shortly after Kerevi broke the line and popped up a pass to Lachie Turner who found Johnson on the inside but the ball went loose just as it seemed the Reds would finally get the try they richly deserved.
Simmons then won a turnover to put the Reds back on the attack again but it was the Tahs who broke away once more to score another long-range try to Beale. Foley’s conversion making it 27-3.
The Reds were down to 14-men soon after as Johnson received a yellow-card for a dangerous tackle on Beale, although the NSW centre did jump just before impact making the tackle look worse than it was.
Taulagi made another exciting break on 65 minutes but the pass inside to Turner went to ground. Saia Fainga’a, on for James Hanson, then sparked a promising attack on 70 minutes but Davies was just dragged into touch.
Daley then went down to become the fourth player replaced through injury during the match.
The Reds continued to press but as they had done all night, just when Queensland looked most dangerous the Tahs broke away to score with Phipps going over in the corner. Foley landed the conversion from the touchline.
There was still enough time for Chris Kuridrani to make his debut for the Reds, coming on for the dangerous Taulagi.
It was the Reds final match of the season and Queensland fans can now look forward to a rejuvenated Queensland’s assault on the title in 2015.
ASTERON LIFE SUPER RUGBY
Full Time Result
St George Queensland Reds 3 (Mike Harris penalty) lost to NSW Waratahs 34 (Kurtley Beale 2, Jono Lance, Nick Phipps tries; Bernard Foley 4 conversions, 2 penalties) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. (Half Time: Reds 3 NSW 17) (Referee: Mike Fraser [NZL])
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