One of the Reds better performances of the season, with the much anticipated return of Quade Cooper, was not quite enough to secure a win against an impressive Johannesburg Lions side, that have won three from four on their Australasian road trip. Less than 20,000 diehard fans had come out to see the return of some of the missing stars.
After some razzle-dazzle from Cooper in the first half with James O’Conner running off him, the impenetrable Lions defence remained intacked with the Reds trailing 8-3. A miss-throw from replacement hooker Saia Faingaa to James Horwill in the second half gifted the South Africans 7 points, to lead 15-3.
A short time later the reds were back in the contest with a penalty try after Greg Holmes came on and added much needed grunt to the front row to trail 15-0. A neat backline move with James O’Conner standing at first receiver lead to a try by Samu Kerevi which put the Reds in front until Ben Tapuai gave away a penalty in the 72nd minute which Elton Jantjies slotted to put the Lions ahead 18-17. A desperate field-goal attempt by Cooper was charged down right on fulltime to leave the Reds one point behind.
“We’re incredibly disappointed by this result.” Reds coach Richard Graham said after the match. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game. Had we managed the last portion of the game better we could have left here with a win tonight.”
It does not get any easier for the Reds now as they depart on their road trip, first to Melbourne then off to South Africa. They are beginning to show positive signs, but the next few weeks together will see where this team is headed and how secure Graham’s position will be.