UPDATE: Captain Wright comes of age as Reds fight back to beat Bulls

Sat, 14/03/2020, 11:23 am
Emma Greenwood
by Emma Greenwood
Reds captain Liam Wright was pivotal in his team's fightback win over the Bulls. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel

UPDATE: It was a fightback that marked Liam Wright's coming of age as a leader but the Reds' 41-17 bonus point win over the Bulls signalled a grinding halt to a promising season.

With the Super Rugby season cancelled for the "foreseeable future" due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the match was the Reds' last for the year, a body blow to a team that had set itself up to go on a run through scheduled conference games.

Regardless, the match was a highlight for Wright, who turned the game in the first half with a key defensive effort and helped his side adapt on the run to claw their way back from a 17-0 deficit to get within striking distance of, and then over-run, the rampaging Bulls in a victory he said was the best of his fledgling captaincy.

"I was really proud of our performance (against the Crusaders) last week but obviously we didn't get the biscuits," he said.

"It was awesome to see us grow a bit. We've talked a lot about a problem for us is not being able to adapt to what the other team is doing and when things aren't going our way, we just keep persevering and not changing for the better.

"So I was really stoked to see the boys pull their heads together and find a solution on the field."

The flanker opened the scoring for the Reds with a pick and drive effort but it was his defensive work just minutes later that turned the match.

With the Reds defending deep in their own territory, Wright made a try-saving tackle on Rosko Speckman, who had been tearing Queensland apart in the opening quarter.

He followed that up with a turnover at the tackle, winning a penalty as he attempted to pilfer the ball.

"I think any of those boys in the jersey would have done the same thing, we just keep working for each other," Wright said.

Reds coach Brad Thorn appreciated the humility of his leader but had a different opinion.

"I thought that was a big point," Thorn said of Wright's defensive effort. "He's being humble about it but that was a certain try and that was a tackle and then a turnover and that was a key moment.

"And it was good to win one of those key moments because in the last six weeks we haven't.

"Liam's highly respected by the coaching group and part of the process (of him becoming captain) was that the players hot to have a say as well and he's got a lot of support from his teammates.

"It's a real honour to captain Queensland and I know he's very proud and in seven games, he's showing real maturity for a guy of his age, as we knew (he would). He's a leader."

Just 7335 fans turned out for a double-header that featured defending Super Rugby champions the Crusaders playing the Sunwolves, with many heeding warnings about large gatherings ahead of a government edict banning non-essential gathering of more than 500 people from Monday.

They were treated to a horror show in the opening minutes of the Reds clash, with the Bulls charging in for three tries on the back of an uncharacteristically poor Queensland defensive effort that allowed Embrose Papier, Speckman and fullback Warrick Gelant to cross.

Suddenly though, the Reds found their mojo, Isaac Lucas scoring a brilliant team try that passed through several sets of hands before he dived over the line to help the Reds claw to within three points at the break.

There was more razzle-dazzle immediately after the  break, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto taking a sublime ball from prop Taniela Tupou to allow the Reds to convert a break by no.8 Harry Wilson into points.

Wilson, who again showed he belongs in the elite class, was forced off with about 25 minutes to play with suspected medial ligament damage to his knee in a slight lull for the Reds.

But Thorn's "finishers" did their job, helping the home side score three tries in the final 12 minutes - through Alex Mafi, Harry Hoopert and Tupou - to post a bonus-point win.

The Reds will be shattered the match is their last given Thorn's admission he wanted "pay" this season after developing this group for the past two years.

But he knows there is more at stake for now.

"It's a serious situation, hopefully people can keep calm and look after others and each other and particularly think of the elderly people," he said, speaking before the decision to suspend the season indefinitely had been made.

"Whatever the steps are that can look after the elderly and the people who are affected the most, it's important to do that.

"But Super Rugby, sport on a weekend doesn't compare to looking after stuff like that.

"It's tough for us because we've paid our dues this year, we've done our round-the-world trip, played in Christchurch and down in Canberra.

"We've been looking at this comp and we see a real opportunity in front of us. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

"It'd be good if there's some more footy played down the track but it doesn't compare to looking after people."


Reds 41

Tries: Wright, Lucas, Salakaia-Loto, Mafi, Hoopert, Tupou

Cons: Hegarty 4

Pens: Hegarty

Bulls 17

Tries: Papier, Speckman, Gelant

Cons: Libbok

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