NRC: Miserly defensive effort helps Queensland Country hold out Canberra Vikings

NRC
by Emma Greenwood

Queensland Country have overcome the defensive foibles that led to their opening-round demise, holding the Vikings to just three points in the second half to notch a 36-23 win against the competition heavyweights.

After going down by a point to the Western Force in a 15-try thriller in Perth last week, defence was the priority for Country heading into the second leg of the NRC double-header at Bond University.

And while they would have been dirty with allowing a try just before the break that handed the Vikings a 20-19 lead at the break, they were rock solid in the second term, conceding just a shot at penalty, while adding three tries of their own to seal the win.

The loss was Canberra's first of the competition after their win over Melbourne last week and they showed they remain among the competition favourites despite going down to Country.

Hamish Stewart charges into the Canberra defence. Photo: ARU Media/Brendan Hertel

Young Reds forward Harry Wilson again showed his class, icing the win for Country with a try in the 73rd minute, while providing a classy pass to put winger Joey Fittock over in the first half.

He was among many players to shine for Country, including Reds teammates Tate McDermott and Hamish Stewart - both try-scorers - while Angus Blyth and Harry Hockings dominated the lineout against a Vikings side that also possessed plenty of Super Rugby talent.

Country prop Harry Hoopert crashed over in the fifth minute to open the scoring for the home side, with debutant flyhalf Carter Gordon adding the extras.

While the Vikings opted to take the points on offer from a penalty the first time they were in a strong attacking position, it did little to stop Country, who pushed out their lead to 14-3 after Tate McDermott glimpsed a half-gap from the back of the lineout and sliced through the Canberra defence to score.

McDermott's try came just after Vikings centre Tom Wright was sin-binned for an intentional knockdown but it prove no deterrent for the Vikings, with winger Mackenzie Hansen changing the complexion of the game when he scored two tries in three minutes.

Andy Muirhead scores just before halftime to give Canberra a lead at the break. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel

Hansen showed great skill for the first, picking the ball up off his toes and recovering his balance to race over in the corner.

He was involved twice ahead of his double, grubbering infield and finding Lonergan before the no.9 popped up a pass to find a Hansen trailing in support.

Country regained their composure when the numbers were even again, with Harry Wilson, best known for his power game, showing his finesse when he flicked on a pass for winger Joey Fittock to race over in the shadows of halftime.

But just as they did in the opening week against the Western Force, Country lapsed in defence, allowing Vikings fullback Andy Muirhead to race over after he pounced on a wayward pass from Toni Pulu.

Lonergan's conversion gave the Vikings a 20-19 lead at halftime.

Pete Samu on the burst for canberra. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel

The Vikings again took the points on offer early in the second half, Lonergan pushing their lead to four points when he slotted a 50th-minute penalty.

But Country regained the lead after replacement front-rower George Francis scored, charging on to a pass from Angus Blyth, who took on halfback duties with Tate McDermott trapped at the bottom of a ruck.

Country went close again when they had a player held up over the line and regained possession deep in the Vikings' territory when Canberra shanked their goal-line drop-out.

Hamish Stewart then showed why the Reds believe his best position will be at centre, breaking the defensive line and brushing defenders aside at will before carrying two over the line to increase Country's lead.

Queensland Country players Angus Blyth, Hamish Stewart and Harry Wilson celebrate Tate McDermott's try. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel

Young gun Harry Wilson then put the icing on the cake, crossing from a rolling maul after Reds teammate Harry Hockings dragged in a one-handed catch at the lineout.

The Vikings threatened in the dying stages but Country held them out, winning a scrum against the feed to ensure Canberra did not leave with a bonus point.

RESULT

Queensland Country 36

Tries: Hoopert, McDermott, Fittock, Francis, Stewart, Wilson

Cons: Gordon 3

Yellow card: Gordon 80'

Canberra Vikings 23

Tries: Hansen 2, Muirhead

Cons: Lonergan

Pens: Lonergan 2

Yellow card: Tom Wright 20’