The St.George Queensland Reds produced a thrilling attacking performance and scored two tries to one but were unable to overcome the class of The British & Irish Lions with the tourists running out 22-12 winners at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
The Reds were chasing a historic victory to become the first Australian provincial team to beat the Lions since Queensland accomplished the feat in 1971 although 14 points to flyhalf Owen Farrell and a try to scrumhalf Ben Youngs proved the difference with the visitors holding off the fast-finishing Reds by 10 points.
In a free-flowing affair the Reds threw everything at the tourists with long-range tries to Luke Morahan and Nick Frisby bringing a season high crowd of 50,136 to their feet at Queensland’s fortress, Suncorp Stadium.
The Reds led the contest 7-6 late in the opening half although it was the Lions who went into the sheds with the momentum when Youngs produced a moment of individual brilliance to score a close-range try just before the break.
It was however a try to Morahan in the opening half that ignited the Suncorp Stadium crowd with the flyer regathering a towering Lions high-ball 70-metre from the try line before beating three defenders and executing a perfectly weighted chip-kick to touch down under the posts.
“We got a couple of tries but needed a few more in the end,” Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie said.
“But I can’t say I am unhappy. We spilt a lot of blood out there. We had ideas of how we wanted to play and by and large we did that. We kept the tempo of the game up and I think it put them under pressure. In the end they were good enough to prevail.
“If we were a little more clinical and had a bit more experienced in a few moments things may have been different.
“What we did do though was present one way of playing against them. We thought it worked and that we did a pretty fair job.“
Flyhalf Quade Cooper produced one of his best efforts for Queensland in 2013 with the captain’s execution of the ball-in-hand gameplan implemented by the Reds almost producing an unlikely upset.
“I think we really did our club proud and our state hopefully. All these people who turned out in this rainy weather to watch a good game of Rugby, we hope they got their money worth,” Cooper said.
“We wanted to run them around as much as possible. They are a very big side so we tried to keep the tempo of the game up. We tried to put pressure on them by moving them around and sticking to what we are best at, which is running teams off their feet.
“I’m very pleased with the performance of the team. We left everything out there on the park and the effort of the boys in attack and defence should be commended. For us, this is a great building block for us moving forward.
“There were a lot of guys who normally don’t get as much game time playing against a great side like the Lions. Everyone got great experience out of it. For us, with the Super Rugby Finals hopefully ahead, it will put us in a good position.”
Right from the get-go the Reds highlighted their attacking intent with two quick taps during the opening five minutes resulting in two early linebreaks to centre Ben Tapuai and Morahan.
Morahan produced one of his best 40 minutes of Rugby with three pieces of brilliance – two in defence and one in attack – giving the home side a platform to pressure the visitors during their third game on tour.
Two try-saving tackles by Morahan against winger Alex Cuthbert and then Owen denied certain Lions tries, while his 70-metre piece of magic gave the Reds the lead in the opening quarter of the game.
“What he did there was brilliant and he has always been capable of these magic moments,” McKenzie said.
“He is enigmatic and can create something out of nothing. He has done that for us plenty of times and it was a pretty special try.”
The Lions regrouped when Youngs ripped the ball from the grasp of Jake Schatz to give the visitors a 13-7 lead late in the opening half.
Penalty goals to Farrell either side of halftime extended the Lions lead until a piece of Frisby brilliance put the Reds back in the contest to trail by only seven points with 15 minutes remaining.
Following a quick throw-in, Frisby darted down the blindside to find Davies who returned serve to Frisby to cross down under the posts, bringing the score to 19-12.
The stage was set for a grandstand finish although the Lions shut the game out when Farrell successfully kicked his fifth penalty goal of the evening.
The British & Irish Lions 22 (Ben Youngs try; Owen Farrell con, 5 pens) def St.George Queensland Reds 12 (Luke Morahan, Mike Harris tries; Quade Cooper con)