The Queensland Reds have channelled the hurt and embarrassment suffered after their Crusaders crushing to become the first Australian team to win a trans-Tasman Super Rugby game this season, beating the Chiefs in a 40-34 thriller in Townsville.
Having capitalised on the send-off of Chiefs star Damian McKenzie in the first half – leaving the visitors momentarily down to 13 men – the Reds led 40-8 midway through the second half and seemed set to cruise to the finish line.
But the Chiefs fought back and what initially seemed like a consolation try turned into a flood of points, with the Reds having to dig deep to ensure victory.
After a shocking run by Australian teams in the opening three rounds, the Super Rugby AU champions became the first Aussie team to beat a Kiwi rival in 457 days, with the Reds racking up their first win over the Chiefs since 2013 and breaking a horror 1-19 run against New Zealand opponents.
Queensland captain Liam Wright’s joy at turning around last week’s horror loss to the Crusaders was tempered by his disappointment in his team’s second-half showing.
“It’s a lot tighter than we really wanted it,” Wright told Stan Sport after the match.
“We set ourselves up with a pretty electric start and capitalised on some ill discipline but we’re really not happy with that second half.
“We let them play the way they wanted to and dictate to us again but we held our nerve and got the win, which is what we’ve been searching for in front of our Queensland fans.”
Treasure the ball, win the match
Queensland had been guilty of handing the ball back to the opposition cheaply in its opening two trans-Tasman matches, with the Highlanders and Chiefs punishing them for it.
While cards handed to Chiefs players in the first half gave them more space in which to move, the Reds also treasured the ball and kept it in hand, losing the loose kicks and pushed passes that have cost them over the past fortnight.
Tight forwards Taniela Tupou and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto also had their best matches of the trans-Tasman series, both working tirelessly to get over the advantage line and make strong contact that gave their team the advantage.
Card controversy for Chiefs
The game was robbed of one of the genuine stars of world rugby when McKenzie was marched midway through the first half after he made direct contact with the head of Reds scrumhalf McDermott in a tackle.
But under World Rugby’s interpretations, which have shifted significantly in recent years to protect players’ heads, it was a clear red card and could not be considered controversial.
It was pivotal though, with the Reds building a 30-point buffer before his replacement came on after 20 minutes.
McKenzie’s trans-Tasman campaign is likely to be over if the judiciary hands out the three-week penalty that has been standard for the offence in this competition.
Chiefs captain Brad Weber said he could not fault his team’s courage.
“We left it all out there, if the game went for another five minutes we might have got it,” Weber said.
“When we had 15 men on the field we were probably the better side at times.”
Scott-Young returns to Townsville
Loose forward Angus Scott-Young was promoted to the starting side as the Reds returned to Townsville, the city that was home to father and Wallabies forward Sam Scott-Young.
The flanker has been among the Reds’ most consistent players this season but with Liam Wright having regained full fitness after a foot injury, he was shuffled to the bench for the opening two trans-Tasman matches.
But he was in his element in Townsville where his hard running and tireless tackling was key to the Reds’ victory.
QUEENSLAND REDS 40 (Tries: Penalty try; Henry 2, Vunivalu, Fotuaika, Daugunu; Cons: O’Connor 4)
CHIEFS 34 (Tries: Sowakula, Vaa’i, O’Neill, Sullivan, Roe; Cons: Trask 3; Pens: McKenzie)