The St.George Queensland Reds have taken plenty of positives from their first pre-season match of 2015, despite losing 28-13 to the Melbourne Rebels on a humid night in Cairns.
Playing in front of 4,234 Queensland fans at Barlow Park in 26-degree heat and 94% humidity, the conditions called for a forward dominated game.
All but one of the six tries scored in the match were by forwards, as the Rebels ran in four tries to two.
The Reds scored through Beau Robinson (2), with one penalty goal to Duncan Paia’aua. The Rebels scored through Tom English, Tom Sexton and Cruze Ah Nau (2). Mike Harris kicked four conversions.
With two pre-season matches before Round 1 of Super Rugby, the Reds took the game in Cairns as an opportunity to further develop their playing group, with 11 debutants in the 28-man squad, including fullback Karmichael Hunt and flyhalf Paia’aua.
“Given 40% of our squad made their debut at this level tonight, I thought it gave us a good indication of where those players are at,” Reds coach Richard Graham said.
Graham was optimistic about the first hit out and said he was looking forward to seeing how the team progressed ahead of their pre-season match against the Crusaders at Ballymore next Friday.
“While we obviously wanted to win the match, the result wasn’t the only outcome we were looking for tonight. This was an opportunity to develop, with half an eye on Round 1 of Super Rugby,” Graham said.
“I thought our set piece was very good. Clearly it wasn’t a night for attack, I don’t think any team scored off phase play, but it certainly gives you an understanding of where you’re at. I thought our defence was very good for the majority of it.
“I don’t think the conditions helped. We came here with a couple of objectives and one was to work on our attacking framework, but due to the humidity tonight, clearly it wasn’t the night for that.”
All 13 of the Reds substitutes took the field during the game, with Graham giving everyone a run in the second half and taking off experienced campaigners James Slipper, James Horwill and Will Genia.
The Reds dominated up front, putting the Rebels under immense pressure in the scrums and reaping penalties as a result. In all, the Reds limited their opposition to just a 38% success rate on their own scrums.
“I thought we were dominant in the set piece all night. Even when we made changes in the forward pack and replaced our more experienced players, we still had the ascendancy. That’s a promising sign for our younger, developing players,” Graham said.
The Reds opened the scoring 16 minutes into the first half, when Paia’aua kicked a penalty goal from in front, following a scrum collapse on the Rebels’ five-metre line.
The away team then took the lead, when a loose pass was gobbled up by Rebels winger Tom English, who ran 90 metres to claim the first try of the match.
The Rebels entered half time up 7-3.
The Reds gained the lead early in the second half, with Robinson scoring his first try of the night off the back of a five-metre rolling maul. The Rebels hit back shortly afterwards, with prop Ah Nau scoring off the back of a similar opportunity, to take their lead to 14-8.
The gap then closed to just one point with 20 minutes left in the game, when Robinson scored his second try off another rolling maul.
The Reds flooded the field with reserves at the next stoppage.
The Rebels scored the final two tries of the match, with Ah Nau getting his second in similar circumstances to his first, before replacement Tom Sexton scored the final of the match with five minutes to go.
The Reds now face the Crusaders at Ballymore and Graham said it is likely they will see the return of injured players Ben Daley, Ed O’Donoghue and James O’Cconnor and the introduction of Adam Thomson.
“The good thing is we’re expecting guys back next week and we’ll get more back ahead of Round 1 against the Brumbies,” he said.
The Reds play fierce rivals The Crusaders at Ballymore Stadium on Friday 6 February.
Tickets are available at www.redsrugby.com.au.
Reds 13 (Robinson 2 tries; Paia’aua 1 penalty goal) defeated by Rebels 28 (Ah Nau 2, English, Sexton tries; Harris 4 conversions) at Barlow Park, Cairns.