Round Three of the Buildcorp National Rugby Championship takes us out to the beautiful Darling Downs region of southern Queensland, with Toowoomba’s Clive Berghofer Stadium hosting the grudge match between Queensland Country and the unbeaten Brisbane City.
The first match between a Queensland Country representative team and Brisbane came when Queensland Rugby Union introduced Country Week carnivals in 1902. Brisbane won the first match narrowly, 16-15.
After the Second World War halted the game in many regions, the Queensland Country Rugby Union re-established in 1965, and Brisbane representative sides have been involved in annual competitions with the country unions ever since. The 50th Anniversary celebrations of the QCRU have kicked off in earnest in Toowoomba this week, where Country and City will battle it out for the Andy Purcell Cup, named for the man instrumental in the creation of Darling Downs Rugby and re-establishment the of QCRU.
For the players taking to the field in Toowoomba on Sunday, the rivalry and the sense of occasion has been building nicely.
“I think it’s going to be a great encounter,” Queensland Country flyhalf Sam Greene told www.BuildcorpNRC.com.au this week. “You’re playing against a lot of blokes you train with at the Reds, and the build-up’s been good this week. Just a little bit of banter around the place, but really looking forward to it this weekend.”
“It’s a game that all Queenslanders look forward to, looking ahead on the calendar, and it’s come around pretty quickly. Heading up to Toowoomba, we’re getting that feeling that a lot of country people are coming into town, and I think a lot of people will come from the outer reaches to watch this game. It’s going to be great,” Greene said.
Brisbane City flyhalf Jake McIntyre agrees about the occasion gaining significance, being played in Toowoomba.
“I definitely think it does. Obviously, it’s Country’s home game, and taking it out to Toowoomba and playing for the Andy Purcell Cup, I think the atmosphere will be unreal. Country footy is such an important part of Australian Rugby, so to go out there, and with a lot of big names playing, I just know all our boys are looking forward to it.
“Plus, we’re playing against a lot of guys who you’ll be competing with for a Super Rugby spot next year, potentially, so there’s that element to it, too. But I think as a team we can get the bragging rights in a grudge match, and that’s a big part too,” McIntyre said, with a subtle message of intent for the ‘other half’ of the broader Reds squad.
“There’s obviously a lot of history between Country and City, and that’s the biggest part about it, I think.”
That very same motivation is driving the Country boys, too; they’re just not making a big song and dance about it in true country fashion. But they know it’s there.
“Yeah, there’s always going to be that element,” Greene laughed. “It’ll be good to get one up on them this weekend.”
Brisbane City have started their Buildcorp NRC in the best possible way, with an impressive 29-16 win over Perth in the first round replay of last year’s Final at Ballymore, and followed it up with and message-sending 45-21 thumping of Melbourne in ordinary Melbourne conditions last weekend.
“Yeah, we’re two from two. We’ve been training well but I don’t know we’ve played our best footy, which we can look at in a really positive way, because we’ve got our best to come,” McIntyre said, in an ominous message for the rest of the competition.
Queensland Country haven’t quite had the best time of it, with a bonus point 31-39 loss to Melbourne in the first round at Bond University, and the 40-50 loss in an entertaining Thursday night game with the Sydney Stars in Round 2. Greene said it had been a frustrating start, knowing they weren’t far off in either game.
“It has been, yeah. We just lost both of our games by a try, and it’s tough, because you put a lot of effort in, but you don’t really get a lot to show for it. We’ve just got to keep moving forward; the results will come.”
“I think the nature of the game is free-flowing and it’s exciting. With the rule variations, the nature of the game is to attack, and you’ve always got to expect points will be scored. It means that a big thing is your defence.
“Defences have definitely improved, too. When you’re on attack, you can feel that defences are really getting set, especially off line breaks, they’re really scrambling well. You can definitely feel the differences in defence [this year] and the way teams are communicating along the line,” Greene said.
And no doubt, defence will be crucial for both teams on Sunday. Both teams have very good scrum set pieces, from which they can lay they platform, and with no shortage of attacking players, the contest will be fierce. Country’s Chris Feauai-Sautia up against City’s Samu Kerevi, for just one example, will be a cracker.
“I think Country have been unlucky,” McIntyre offered up. “I think they’ve been playing good footy over the first two rounds, and I know they’re going to be very hungry for a win and it’s going to be very fiery.
“Hopefully it’s going to be good running rugby, but it’s going to be a tight contest because there is so much to play for. I’m going to really enjoy the tightness of the game, and there will be a lot of tension. I think that will be the most exciting thing about the game.”
SUNDAY: Queensland Country v Brisbane City at Clive Berghofer Stadium, Toowoomba; 3:30pm AEST Tickets: Adults $15 when purchased online via www.redsrugby.com.au, and kids under 16 free. Adults $20 at the gate.