There is always something special about a derby game, and last Sunday’s brutal Queensland Country-Brisbane City clash in Toowoomba undoubtedly lived up to all the anticipation.
But that wasn’t just the case for those of us outside the fence, or starring at the screen. Brisbane City openside flanker and skipper, Liam Gill, confirmed that the match was as tough to play as it looked.
“I don’t know if it hurt more on Sunday, or Monday,” Gill told www.BuildcorpNRC.com.au this week.
“But it certainly did hurt. There was a fair bit of emotion; I think Country really want to win that trophy (the Andy Purcell Cup, played for between the two Queensland NRC teams), which made it difficult for us. But it was tough, it was a little bit scrappy, but it was pretty much what we expected from them. We woke up pretty sore on Monday.
“We expected them to come out with a lot of fire in their belly, and a lot of our gameplan was just to kind of weather that storm early and then try and come over the top of them. It worked in a way; I mean, they did a really good job of slowing us down, and forcing us into a lot of errors.
“I thought the game was a good game to be a part of - it was tough, and there were a lot of good moments in there, and both teams were willing. Yeah, I hope from a spectator’s point of view it lived up to expectations, because from a playing point of view it certainly did.”
And it absolutely did, of that there should be no doubt. The reaction on Monday across social media and the various rugby forums was unanimous; we’d seen a cracking contest of which the final scoreline - 44-24 to Brisbane City - was in no way indicative of just how tight the match was.
The defensive intensity was obvious from both sides - witness by the numerous comings-together of the teams at different moments of feeling - and another sign that this has been a major focus of NRC teams in 2015, as Melbourne Rising coach Zane Hilton confirmed was the case for his side this week.
Gill, similarly, has noted the improvement in defences, and again, in the fitness levels of teams as they become more accustomed to defending deeper in games.
“Yeah, massively. Massively. You saw it on Sunday even, the score blew out a little bit, but it was between seven and ten points the whole bloody game,” Gill laughed. “It ended being a 20-point win, but it wasn’t a 20-point difference between the two sides.”
“Defence is crucial, mate; that’s what’s going to win this tournament. There’s good attacking teams out there, but like they say, defence will win championships, especially this one.”
With three impressive wins from three starts, Brisbane City’s title defence is alive and well, and they sit atop the Buildcorp NRC table heading into tonight’s Round 4 opener against North Harbour at Ballymore. Gill is obviously thrilled with the performance of his side.
“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “It’s a tough tournament to really understand what teams are going to throw at you, and how you’re going to go as a team. I mean, we’ve played three really hard teams (Perth, and both Melbourne and Queensland Country away) and we’ve gone really well so far, so no, very impressed. Very happy with the way with the way our [Brisbane Premier Grade] club players have really stepped up.
“There is a lot of unknown about this competition, like I said, and I think everyone has stood up and really made a difference in getting these wins, and it’s a massive credit to these club boys, especially.”
Gill has been in pretty red-hot form himself, with standout performances in the Round 1 win over Perth, and in Sunday’s Round 3 win over Queensland Country.
In between, he jetted to the other side of the world and back, taking part in the Barbarians match against Samoa at the rugby debut of the Olympic Stadium in London. Thankfully, Gill said his recovery was pretty smooth, but it was clearly a very enjoyable week or so with one of rugby’s great institutions.
“The BaaBaas was unbelievable. It certainly lived up to everything I could have hoped for and more. It was an outstanding week; they were an awesome bunch of players to play with, an awesome establishment and organisation to play for, and mate, I absolutely loved it.
With some absolute legends of the game on present, Gill couldn’t deny that the autograph book would have come in handy, in a star-studded dressing room including international forwards like Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha, and Ali Williams.
“It was certainly going back in time, with some of the boys playing over there,” Gill laughed. “I was certainly star-struck walking into it, but they were awesome, they looked after a lot of the young blokes that were there really well, and helped us fit in straight away.
“Just to individually have some of the world’s best players around you is quite an incredible thing. I was standing there at scrum time, and I think I was the only bloke who hadn’t won a World Cup! It was actually quite daunting in a way; I absolutely loved stepping out there, but it kind of put you in your spot with how good some of these players are. You pick up so much from these guys, about what being successful means, and what you can take away from rugby.
“Packing down on the tighthead side... it was a pretty fair tighthead side they had going (alongside Springbok lock Botha, and in behind All Blacks prop Hayman). They had every one of my 95 kilograms pushing as hard as I could!”
Having played the brutal derby game on Sunday, City now face the North Harbour Rays tonight at Ballymore, just four days later. Gill says it’s a tough turnaround, but one he’s looking forward to.
“She’ll be a tough haul, but it’s part of the competition, and part of the fun, I guess, getting to play two games in five games. We’ll get two [training] runs in this week, and then fire up and give the Rays a run.”
Gill had to admit that he’d seen very little of the Rays in recent weeks, but noted, “they can put some points on” when I mentioned their second half comeback last Thursday night against Melbourne. Some video will be required to get a handle on the Rays’ quality young flankers in Boyd Killingworth and Jack Dempsey, for sure and certain.
Come fulltime tonight, though, there is one other forgotten little detail and rare event that Gill is looking forward to.
“It’s good fun, because we can sometimes get a weekend now. These Thursday games work out alright!”
TONIGHT - Buildcorp NRC Round 4: Brisbane City v North Harbour Rays at Ballymore Oval. Tickets from www.redsrugby.com.au, and broadcast live on Fox Sports 2 from 7:35pm AEST.