The St.George Queensland Reds have suffered a heartbreaking 32-29 loss to the Western Force in a thrilling Asteron Life Super Rugby clash at Suncorp Stadium tonight.
The lead swapped eight times in the nail-biting encounter, with the Reds leading by four points toward the end of the match, before a try to Force fullback Jayden Hayward in the 79th minute cruelly snatched victory away.
Reds coach Richard Graham was disappointed his team were unable to defend what he thought was a winnable position.
“By the time it was 29-25 we had given ourselves every opportunity to win,” Graham said.
“It was pretty obvious from the way the game had gone across the 80 minutes, if you were down the right end of the field you were going to score points, whether that be through penalties or tries.
“I thought we started the game well, but we weren’t rewarded for it. We did well to come back from 12-0 and should have gone in with a lead at half time. It turned out to be a 40-minute contest but we weren’t able to hold on.”
A hot and steamy Brisbane night greeted both teams with the temperature at 24 degrees and the humidity 75%, as 27,024 turned out to see the Reds in just their third home game of the 2014 season.
The game began as it was to continue with a high-tempo opening, as the Force ran the ball from their own try line off the kick off.
Force Hooker Nathan Charles lost the ball near halfway and the Reds counter attacked, immediately throwing the ball wide. Play finally halted with a penalty to the Reds for offside.
Birthday boy Quade Cooper, who turned 26 on the night, lined up the penalty from 45 metres out, wide on the right but the attempt fell short.
The Force then dominated possession and territory for the next 11 minutes to put themselves up 12-0 through four penalty goals to flyhalf Sias Ebersohn.
But the momentum turned when Force flanker Angus Cottrell was yellow carded for a shoulder charge in the 24th minute.
The Reds immediately took advantage of the extra man. They kicked for touch, even though the penalty was in kicking range, and some quick ruck ball and a strong run from Simmons saw prop Slipper stopped just short near the left corner.
The ball was spun quickly back to the right and Cooper found Tapuai in acres of space, who ran in untouched under the posts. Cooper converted and the Reds were back to 12-7.
On 34 minutes Queensland were in front. Cooper magic again inspired the Reds as the flyhalf sensationally stepped and spun through Force No.8 Ben McCalman to take Queensland into the opponent’s half.
A Lucas break on the right touchline then saw Davies stopped just short once more. But the Reds recycled quickly and a ball from Will Genia to James Horwill saw the Reds captain throw a long pass to Cooper who again found Slipper.
The Wallabies prop this time couldn’t be stopped from close range, going over through his Force counterpart Pek Cowan. Cooper converted and the Reds were in front 14-12.
The teams traded penalty goals through Cooper and Ebersohn to enter the half time break locked 17-17.
In the second half, the open nature of the game was summed up in the 52nd minute when an Ebersohn penalty struck the upright and rebounded into the field of play.
The Reds just gathered the ball before the chasing Force and attacked from deep in their own 22. Cooper made the initial break before Horwill and Harris took it on with the Reds eventually winning a penalty in the Force half.
Harris took over the kicking, as Cooper was recovering from a knock sustained in a tackle, and the centre landed the attempt to put the Reds back in front 20-17.
Ebersohn missed another penalty attempt as his radar went askew but the Force were in front after 62 minutes as Morahan finished off a well worked move from a five-metre scrum. Hayward, who took over the kicking for the wayward Ebersohn, missed the conversion but the Force led 22-20.
Harris then put the Reds back in front just two minutes later 23-22 with a well struck penalty before 18-year-old Jonah Placid, on for Taulagi, was replaced after being injured contesting a high ball with Hayward.
The lead then swapped twice more as first Ebersohn sent a drop goal squeaking over the goal posts to put the Force in front 25-23 before another sweetly struck Harris penalty gave the Reds the advantage again 26-25.
Harris looked to have given the Reds a winning edge with his fourth penalty putting them up 29-25 as the clock counted down to the last few minutes but somehow the Force rallied.
Then in the 79th minute, after a patient Force held the ball for 16 phases, Hayward found a way through the Reds’ defence with a weaving run to score beside the upright. He converted his own try to make it 32-29.
The Reds forced an error from the re-start to give themselves one final chance. They looked dangerous as they surged in to the Force 22. The ball then came back to Cooper who went for a 40-yard drop goal, but it was out to the right to give the Force a shock victory.
The Reds will look to bounce back at Suncorp Stadium next Friday night (7.40pm AEST) against the conference-leading Brumbies.
“It’s a huge game for us, it was always going to be regardless of the result tonight” Graham said.
“The loss tonight has magnified that and we have six days now to get it right.
“We need to win next week. That’s an important game and we have talked about this sequence of three games after a long stretch away so it’s important we get a win.”
?ASTERON LIFE SUPER RUGBY?Full Time Result?St.George Queensland Reds 29 (Ben Tapuai, James Slipper tries; Quade Cooper 2 conversions, penalty; Mike Harris 4 penalties) lost to Western Force 32 (Ben McCalman, Luke Morahan, Jayden Hayward tries; Hayward conversion; Sias Ebersohn 4 penalties, drop goal) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. (Half Time: Reds 17 Force 17).
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!