Reds' finals hopes sink despite "gutsy" effort in Hamilton heartbreak

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

Reds coach Brad Thorn has refused to dwell on his team's season-halting loss to the Chiefs, pointing instead to the young team's "gutsy" effort in Hamilton and the bright future that lies ahead.

Youth has been a dirty word this season at Ballymore as the Reds banished excuses while hunting their first Super Rugby finals appearance in six years.

But as their chances evaporated in the heartbreaking 19-13 loss, Thorn pointed out the Reds' reality - that they are a young group still coming to terms with the consistency required at the highest levels despite refusing to say die.

"It was gutsy. It went down to the wire at the end there and disappointing not to get that result," Thorn said of just failing to get across the line from an 80th minute drive for a try that could have pinched a crucial win.

"For us, the first half I felt we were mainly hurting ourselves - putting kicks out on the full or guys executing little things - but it was a slugfest in the end and we didn't quite get across the line."

Thorn may be a Kiwi but having grown up in Queensland and played State of Origin footy, the dual international draws on the mythology of the maroon jumper as much as any league coach.

 

"I'm very proud of the boys, they love their rugby in New Zealand and I may be a New Zealander but I grew up in Queensland and the maroon jersey means a lot to us and they're doing the maroon jersey proud," he said.

"They just won't go away. And to me that's Queenslanders."

The Reds' Super Rugby finals charge suffered a fatal blow in the Hamilton heartbreak. Queensland hammered the Chiefs line in the final stages of the match with an unlikely win on the cards after they clawed their way to within six points of the home side following a try to Taniela Tupou that got them back in touch.

Without captain Samui Kerevi - rested under Rugby Australia's workload management policy - and missing several regulars through injury, the Reds were massive underdogs.

But they had a mountain of possession in the final minutes, including an 80th minute lineout that they won and pushed across the Chiefs' line for what could have been a match-winning try.

But the Chiefs stood tall, pilfering the ball from the Reds on their own line with their 242nd tackle of the match to end the Queenslanders' charge for the Australian conference title.

Izack Rodda, who captained the team in place of Kerevi, was proud of his charges despite the loss.

Chiefs Pita Gus Sowakula (L) fends off Reds Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (R) to score during the round 15 match between the Chiefs and the Reds. Photo: Getty Images

"The second half was a cracker from both sides and in the last five minutes we were on their line just going and going and going," Rodda said.

"But credit to the Chiefs for holding us out, that was an amazing effort."

The stats suggest the game should have gone to the Reds.

With an amazing 193 carries, almost exactly double the number from the Chiefs, and having to make only a third of the tackles of their rivals, the Reds had ample opportunity.

Twice they were denied tries by the TMO as Angus Scott-Young and Alex Mafi were pinged for promoting the football, while they conceded more turnovers than their rivals and were guilty again of kicking the ball away as they took poor options at vital stages.

"That's always frustrating," Rodda said of the TMO rulings. "But I just told the guys to keep at it, keep doing our game plan and it would work."

But in what is shaping as the story of their season, it was simple errors that let them down.

Seb Wileman makes his Super Rugby debut for the Reds against the Chiefs. Photo: Getty Images

"Little errors can cost you games like that and we've just got to build on that stuff," Rodda said.

In a bright spot for Queensland, young prop Harry Hoopert has escaped serious injury despite being taken from the field on a medicab early in the second half after the game was stopped for several minutes as he lay prone after an awkward tackle.

The Reds showed excellent patience and control early, holding the ball for 19 phases before being denied by the TMO when Angus Scott-Young was ruled to have made a second effort to propel himself over the tryline.

The Chiefs looked to have made the most of their reprieve when Etene Nanai-Seturo crossed just minutes later but the TMO was again called into action and ruled that the winger's hand had separated from the ball as he went to plant it.

The Chiefs were not held out for long though, scoring through no.8 Pita Sowakula after he jinked and barged his way through some flimsy Reds defence after the visitors failed to put their kick into touch.

Bryce Hegarty was dismal with the boot against the Waratahs, managing just one from six but he was on song straight away, slotting a penalty in the 12th minute to help the Reds claw the margin back to four points.

The Reds had plenty of possession but could not translate that into point and it was the Chiefs that were over next, Atu Moli barging over to extend their lead to 12-3.

Queensland was over the line again late in the first term but Alex Mafi was denied after crawling his way forward after being tackled, the TMO turning down a third try for the period.

Reds lock Angus Blyth secures lineout ball as Queensland mounts another raid into the Chiefs territory. Photo: Getty Images

But with the referee playing advantage, Hegarty slotted his second penalty and the Reds seemed set to go into the break in touch.

Where the Reds were unable to capitalise on their chances, the Chiefs made the most of theirs though and when their shift to the left resulted in a try to Nanai-Seturo, they were up 13 points at the break and the Reds season was on life support.

Hoopert was taken from the field on a medicab in the 50th minute, the game stopped for several minutes as he lay on the turf following an awkward tackle in which he stung his neck and shoulder.

Despite the scare, he was able to return to the bench for the Reds, providing relief for his parents who had travelled across the Tasman to watch their son play.

His injury seemed to spur his teammate though, who were finally able to score when Taniela Tupou crossed after another patient building of pressure.

Hegarty's conversion brought the deficit back to just six points but the Reds were unable to land the final blow despite a mountain of ball in the dying stages.

RESULT

Chiefs 19

Tries: Pita Sowakula, Atu Moli, Etene Nanai-Seturo

Cons: Marty McKenzie 2

Reds 13

Tries: Taniela Tupou

Cons: Bryce Hegarty

Pens: Hegarty 2