Five down for Reds ... and now for the Tahs
The Reds: Having now banked five from five they'll need to overcome old foe the Waratahs next week to keep their finals hopes alive. Photo: Gertty Images
After the Reds lost to the Crusaders in Christchurch in May, arithmetic dictated that they would need to win all six of their remaining games if they were any hope of defending their Super Rugby title.
Five games later, they remain alive. Number six? The Waratahs at home on Saturday night. The old derby has rarely had more on the line for the Queenslanders.
The Reds momentarily held down sixth spot but were overtaken overnight by a bonus-point victory by the Sharks over South African rivals the Bulls in Durban.
After a sluggish season start when they were torn apart by injuries, the Reds have shown the kind of fight that typified their run of 2011. They needed all that heart and more last night in the 19-13 win against the Highlanders, who ripped in like wild bulls as they too tried to keep their hopes afloat.
Reds captain Will Genia fires a pass during last night's clash with the Highlanders. Photo: Getty Images
In the end, some selfless defence on the Reds line and the clutch pilfer of Jake Schatz was enough to repel the men from Otago, who left nothing in the tank but can now kiss their finals chances goodbye. They don’t fly home until tomorrow. By that time, Brisbane may have run out of beer.
The Reds, meanwhile, are rejoicing the brilliant return to form of man-of-the-match Quade Cooper but must try to patch up their squad in time to face the Waratahs.
The Tahs are out of finals contention but represent a potential spanner for today’s opponent , the Brumbies, and next week, Queensland.
Man of the match Quade Cooper. Photo: Getty Images
Liam Gill (hamstring) and Digby Ioane (pneumonia) already missed out last night and are joined on the doubtful list by Rob Simmons (corked thigh), Beau Robinson (foot) and Chris F’Sautia (hamstring), who soared beautifully through a gap before breaking down like Dulcify in the Cup.
A bonus point would have been the ideal outcome for the Reds, who momentarily held down sixth spot but were overtaken overnight by a bonus-point victory by the Sharks over South African rivals the Bulls in Durban.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie said last night after the Suncorp clash that simply gunning for four tries was never a focus.
The Highlanders were forced to do just that, giving up numerous shots in front of goal early in the match to try to cross the line. That, along with misdirected kicks when they did the get chance, would prove costly.
“The main thing in the end is that we at least won the game. You win the game, you keep pressure on, you keep climbing the ladder. You can work out the mathematics and worry about that. But I can guarantee that if you go out there and say we’ll score four tries, it doesn’t happen,” McKenzie said.
“If you look at their scenario, they went out there to score four tries and they didn’t win. Everyone can be an expert sitting on the sideline. You’ve got to get the four points first. We concentrated on that.”
A whopping 27 penalties, 17 against the Reds, meant it wasn’t a classic night of running rugby. Jonathan Kaplan’s whistle nearly melted as both sides push the boundaries at a fiercely contested breakdown.
Reds captain Will Genia said he was relieved more than anything to hang on until the final whistle from Kaplan went their way and ended the contest.
“We spoke about a couple of tries we let in that were soft and very unlike this group in terms of defence on our line. Thankfully we addressed it and got the penalty at the end there,” Genia said.
“It’s all about character, especially in that breakdown contest. When you’re pushed to the limits on your tryline you just have to front up. And we did. We kept putting numbers in there and the discipline was good.”
And then there was Cooper. In just his second full game after a serious knee injury, the Reds five-eighth took about 10 leaps forward in his recovery. He grew in confidence with every touch, threw some superb cut-out balls and stabbed in some key tactical kicks.
He took on the Highlanders defence on a number of occasions and made some big tackles when called upon in a frantic final series of exchanges. His dual with Berrick Barnes next week will be vital.
“He hasn’t played a lot of football this year. I think he’s doing nice things out there. There’s much better balance than when he played six or eight months ago,” McKenzie said.
“That’s the maturing of the guy. He’s had a lot of time to watch. He’s an analytical guy about the game. We saw some flashes of x-factor there, we also saw some good quality game management.”
McKenzie is justifiably proud of the last-ditch run his side has made at the finals after it appeared it would be a bridge too far. Now the Waratahs stand in their way. Ticket sales have already been strong and it will go close to being sold out.
“We just stuck to our guns. We had to win six from six. We’ve won five from five now. We’ve done just about all we can to get that credibility back and put ourselves in a position where we can challenge. We’ll work out the maths on Monday and go from there.”