The Queensland Reds have finally broken an 11 match hoodoo! After 7 long years, they have nailed arch interstate rivals the New South Wales Waratahs with a 32-26 victory at Suncorp Stadium.
In front of a sparse crowd, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Reds were out of the blocks early with their fearless leader, Liam Wright, going over in the sixth minute. Though, this was short lived when the ‘Tahs prop, Harry Johnson-Holmes, scrambled over the line in the tenth minute to level the score 7-all. A bruising affair ensued as the Reds scrum & line-out dominated resulting in two more tries for the home side to lead 19-7. However, last year’s Junior Wallabies’ No. 10, Will Harrison, slotted two penalties in the last six minutes before halftime to go to the sheds only 6 behind at 19-13.
Harrison’s sharp shooting landed another penalty goal early in the second half followed by Jack Maddocks slicing through a gap off the ruck to score under the posts. The visitors were now leading 23-19 only 8 minutes in.
A try to another 2019 Junior Wallaby, No.8 Harry Wilson, in the 64th minute that was converted had the Reds back in the lead at 26-23. Only three minutes later the Harrison boot equaled the score before the confident boot of James O’Conner took over, from an indifferent kicking display from Bryce Hegarty, to put the match out of reach with two penalties at the 75th & 80th minute mark to break the 26-all deadlock.
A fairly even match with the Reds having 57% of possession, 58% of territory and scoring four tries to two making them the deserved winners in a tough State verse State, mate against mate encounter.
James O’Conner said after the match: “It was an awesome effort by the guys. We dug deep and obviously winning it right at the end was amazing.”
Though he admitted: “We were pretty scrappy… There’s a lot to improve on.”
Special mention for debutante Tuaina Tualima coming on early in the first half for Angus Blyth. He definitely will benefit for the hour+ he had on the paddock.
What was billed as a double header with four nations involved turned out to be a fizzer due to coronavirus with a paltry 7335 swallowed by the cavernous 52,000-seat Suncorp Stadium. Not that the action on the field suffered. With the tenacious Sunwolves holding out the mighty crusaders in the first half nearly going to the break 7-all. It was only basic errors up against a far superior opponent that meant that the scoreline got away to14-49 loss, despite their numerical advantage of two players at the death. Jake Shatz said he was proud of the way his boys stuck it to the more fancied Kiwis and as the Japanese coach, Naoya Okubo, told me after the match that the camaraderie amongst his squad being away from their Tokyo base for so long has been great. Of course, having a few local Aussie members has helped and there has been no shortage of local clubs bending over backwards to provide training pitches non gratis.
The Reds, unaffected by the lower then normal turnout, proved my early assessment correct that this cohort will go places. Down 0-17 they dug deep to show the faithful that their 4-try haul against the Crusaders last week could be backed up scoring 41 unanswered points to win 41-17. Captain courageous, Liam Wright (picture courtesy of Brendan Hertel QRU), has put Michael Hooper on notice that his cushy multi-million dollar contract might mean he can purchase more houses on Sydney’s North Shore but he doesn’t haven’t a mortgage on the Wallabies position.
Another massive performance from Lukan Salakai-Loto, who told me after the match he prefers No. 6 for the Wallabies, and BrisbaneRugby favourite son Isaac Lucus added to the positives from this match ahead of Super Rugby going into a hiatus. And when live-wire halfback Tate McDermott came on the team lifted another notch.
The nomadic Sunwolves should make the Sunshine State their home base in their final Super Rugby season, moreover Townsville in the north with a new 25,000-seat stadium. It would be a win-win for all parties concerned starting with their match against the Reds on April 5. The north has been crying out for a Super Rugby match, something they haven’t experienced since 2006 and, as I reported last year, there is a healthy following of rugby union up there: https://brisbanerugby.com/2019/07/09/rugby-in-the-regions/.
With the onset of coronavirus tourism has had a huge setback and I’m sure Tourism & Events Minister, Kate Jones, would bend over backwards to help the Japanese team out. The extra Japanese eyeballs on the area would be welcome, especially if they played out the rest of their ‘home’ games there and their Tokyo supporters made there way to Tropical Queensland.
The Sunwolves are like ronin, or masterless samurai, although they are a motley crew of ex-pat Aussie, Kiwis, South Africans and some Japanese they do have some local Queensland representatives, such as captain Jake Shatz, to build some domestic support behind moving forward especially if they evolve into a team in Global Rapid Rugby next season. I know Tim Horan’s son Alex, who debuted for the Sunwolves two weeks ago in New Zealand, has two compatriots in Townsville at James Cook University that played Colts with him in Brisbane that would be getting behind the side.
If reports out of France are true it’s au voire to Kurtley Beale as they will pay for his retirement through French Club Racing 92. Good riddance I’d say as he’s well past his use-by date, costing us a semifinal berth at RWC2019 last year. I know he had to go along to Cheika’s Waratahs swansong in Japan as reward for winning the Super Rugby title in 2014; though when is enough enough? I still remember how he lined up for that unmissable final kick at Lang Park in 2013 to defeat the British & Irish Lions in Game 1; what a disgrace. He may have slotted that 50m+ bomb at Loftus to break a Wallaby drought of wins on the high veldt, but that British & Irish Lions debacle was a bridge too far. Giving him the captaincy at the weekend didn’t change a thing, Kurtley is still Kurtley Beale; when he’s good he’s very very good, but when he’s bad he’s awful.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again. “There’s a lot to like about the Reds of 2020”. With James O’Conner nursing an ankle injury, Brad Thorn gave BrisbaneRugby favourite son, Izaac Lukus (pictured with CJ), a licence to thrill in the No. 10 jersey and he didn’t disappoint. Up against All Black pivot Richie Mo’unga he was not afraid to take on the champion defence. The most successful team in the 25 years of Super Rugby were unsure of how to take the young Queenslanders; they even looked rattled in attack. Thorn knows how well they prepare at home, being a past Crusaders player himself, so he would have been delighted with the narrow loss. My daughter even noted the 20-24 loss saying that the Reds must have been ‘aweful’ and I informed her that the Reds actually scored 4 tries to 3; leaving 8 points on the field.
Along with my Souths Rugby Club compatriot, Andrew Slack, I was equally concerned why the rotation policy had meant that live-wire halfback, Tate McDermott. wasn’t in the run-on 15 for this must win clash. They opted for Samoan halfback, Scott Malolua to have over an hour of game time. Admittedly, Lukan Salakai-Loto showed his rest from the starting 15 last week earned him Green & Gold MOM this week.
Timely return to Ballymore for English kicking guru, Dave Alred. The Kiwis can, South Africa can. How good would it be to have a Leigh Halfpenny, a Dan Bigger or even Owen Farrell all banging over 100% at Twickenham over the weekend in their Round Four clash. Three tries a piece but the scoreline read England 33-30 over Wales. It’s what makes the Guinness Six Nations so attractive to corporate sponsorship. Game management by England was key to their weekend win and another Triple Crown. Raelene Castle should be checking Eddie Jones’ contractual arrangements, to try to get him back in time for France 2023 World Cup. (Full report of Six Nations RD #4: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/77206314/posts/2617244225)
With Andrew Twiggy Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby speeding up the game with shorter halves. Alan Jones wrote in The Australian on Friday about extending the time, allegedly to account for ‘time wasting’ with scrums. As with The Australian’s Rugby Editor, Wayne Smith, I too was intrigued by the novel concept of extending the halves by 5 minutes to match football, ie. soccer.
Aussie 7s in Vancouver were unlucky to go down 14-17 to the NZ 7s in the HSBC Sevens Series Cup final. Aussie 7s haven’t beaten the Kiwis in a 7s final since Brisbane 2002.
There’s a lot to like about this 2020 Reds side despite only one win from six outings. Easing Brisbanerugby favourite Izaac Lukus back into the starting pivot as James O’Conner sits out this week with the ankle injury he sustained in last weeks loss to the Sharks at Lang Park. I like what Brad Thorn is doing over at Ballymore resting his chargers, such as livewire halfback Tate McDermott coming off the pine today in Christchurch as he has chosen to start with Samoan national rep, Scott Malolua at 9. Also, Wallaby utility forward, Lukan Salakaia-Loto is back starting replacing Izack Rodda (calf niggle) in the second row, with Angus Scott-Young retained as blind side flanker.
I’m thinking 2010 Reds under Ewen McKenzie and we all know what happened in 2011.
Every cloud has a silver lining and if the Sunwolves play their cards right they may not have to disband after Super Rugby 2020. With Global Rapid Rugby starting up next month the Sunwolves could be part of the action next year. After Saturday’s 64-5 mauling by a resurgent Queensland Reds side they may be better suited to Global Rapid Rugby with a more open style of play that suits the Japanese team’s strengths. Holding onto players will be an issue, but with a swarth of ex-internationals calling Japan their rugby home there’s plenty of talent to draw from that well.
When Wayne Smith broached the idea of joining Rapid Rugby after the Reds’ match on Saturday night, he was stonewalled with a flat bat. However, that’s the Japanese way, i.e. to confront issues by not making decisions. Brisbanerugby spent 4 months beating our head against the wall after RWC2019 in Tokyo talking to various interested parties, gleaning much insight into how the JRFU is not interested with any expansion outside the rigid paradigm of their precious Top League. Despite this WE WILL continue to push their barrow.
Almost 12,000 people (official crowd 11,798) watched the first home match for the Reds at Suncorp Stadium last night; a 37% increase from the 8,600 that last year watched this fixture against the Sunwolves. Scoring 10 tries to 1, to win 64-5, is sure to bring the faithful supporters back and Brad Thorn said he was very excited about this team. He said, having someone like Hunter Paisami coming in for the injured Jordan Petaia was a revelation. A player in the mold that Thorn likes; trains hard with a good attitude.
Thorn has said earlier this season that his younger chargers have been progressing for a number of years, whether it be Schoolboys, U19s, U20s or NRC: “90% of our players have come through the system here in Queensland, which shows what we are trying to do here.”
The prodigal son, Jame O’Conner, erased his 2015 Reds nightmare last night as he orchestrated the Reds highest ever Super Rugby score; eclipsing there previous best 53-3 in 2011 against the Rebels..
Brad Thorn’s men are back at their Suncorp fortress, al beit up against a few prodigal sons in their opponents, The Sunwolves, this Saturday. Headed by former Reds No. 8 Jake Schatz (CEGS/Sunnybank), captaining the much maligned Tokyo franchise. Journeyman Ben Te’o is in the Japanese side making a return to Lang Park, a ground he called home when playing for the Brisbane Broncos NRL side. He also played here for England (his mum’s English) when Eddie Jones gave him a call after RWC2015; born in New Zealand he did attend Keebra Park H.S. for Grade 12 he told me Wednesday at their training run up at Souths Rugby Chipsy Wood Ground.
Another Brisbane favourite son Ben Lucas who’s in the Sunwolves squad was left behind in Tokyo. Maybe he didn’t want to play against his younger brother, Isaac. The youngest Lucas brother had a breakout last year with the Junior Wallabies side beating the Junior All Blacks 24-0 on the Gold Coast and just going down to the French side in the U20s World Cup final in Argentina.
Also, rugby great Tim Horan’s son, Alex, is in the greater squad flying into Brisbane on Monday to cover for a Tongan winger injury concern. They fly straight to New Zealand as they play the Hurricanes in Wellington the following weekend. Tim told me yesterday that his son has been training with the Sunwolves squad for 6-weeks now.
The last time Townsville saw international rugby was 2003 when Fiji played Japan in RWC2003. Townsville MP, Scott Stewart, has announced that the Wallabies will play Fiji at the new downtown stadium on July 18th as part of a double header with the Wallaroos taking on Third ranked Canada. He said, “It’s the State Government that’s built a brand new stadium in Townsville and it’s the State Government that’s leading negotiations to make sure it’s filled.”
Tourism Development Minister Kate Jones has given the green light for this and other rugby content to utilise the new stadium in 2020/21 .
“Scott lobbied hard for a new Townsville Stadium for years. And he’s been harassing me for months about securing new footy content in 2020 and 2021. It’s early days but the calendar is looking great,” she said.
Well technically not, as it’s only the third biggest global sporting event. A mere 20 nations qualifying after an exhaustive elimination process, however, the tournament is three times longer at six-weeks and 12 venues from Hokkaido to Kyushu. The influx of foreign invaders will be the greatest since Commodore Perry’s arrival in 1853 at Shimoda.
Perennial favourites the All Blacks from New Zealand will be looking for an unprecedented three-peat, having won the last two incarnations in 2011 & 2015. Although, Ireland will go into the tournament as World No. 1, due to the quirky World Rugby algorithm that determines placings. Never before have the ‘Men in Green’ made a RWC Final, although their Quarter-Final match against RWC1991 winners, the Wallabies, at Landsdown Road will go down as ‘the one that got away‘.
The teams descending on Japan, somewhat delayed due to Typhoon Faxai, should be embraced by the Japanese populous along with the tsunami of international supporters. Rugby people are a different breed: beer-swilling aficionados as opposed to football (soccer in the English speaking world outside of England) hooligans. They will appreciate the culture, the ceremonies, the nature and the history that abounds there; as well as the onsen or hot springs, the most renowned are found in Beppu, Kyushu; with matches played in Oita, including two very important quarter-finals, these are a must-see (map below).
Visiting Japan 12 months out from the Rugby World Cup I got a sense that the ‘general’ Japanese population were somewhat unaware of the tournament. When questioned they would reply with, “Tokyo 2020?” Just last week at a theme park on the Gold Coast some university students visiting from Japan on their summer break in Australia looked puzzled when I said I was going to Japan for the Rugby World Cup (admittedly, they were from Ibaraki Prefecture, an hour or so north of Tokyo on the Joban Line, where no matches are being played). Also in Australia, when people ask why I am going to Japan the response often is, “Do they play rugby in Japan?”
Undoubtedly, when RWC2019begins this Friday at Ajinomoto Stadium the vast majority will get on board. Not everyone is a diehard rugby fan, but when a spectacle such as the Rugby World Cup is on your doorstep you can be assured that the populous will respond and Japanese ‘omotenashi‘ (hospitality) will come to the fore. At the 2015 tournament, 25 million in Japan tuned in to watch Japan v Samoa on their television sets, so the interest is there. The other takeout from that tournament held in the UK was the 34-32 last-minute win over the Springboksby the Japanese Brave Blossoms; recreated in cinema with the just-released “Miracle in Brighton“.
Rugby Union has a long history in Japan dating from 1866 in Yokohama and, while being more popular in the universities, the company based Top League has started to attract larger crowds. Unfortunately, Japan’s Super Rugbyteam the Sunwolves will be axed from the competition after the 2020 season, though I’m sure their company based Top League will eventually open up to international teams from Hong Kong and Perth (convincing the JRFU will be a challenge, though).
All and all this bodes well for a spectacular tournament that I am very much looking forward to attending. 楽しみですネ‼