Of all the people to dive into history, it had to be James O’Connor plunging over for the try that ended the craziness at Suncorp Stadium last night.
Only O’Connor has rewritten his story more than the Queensland Reds’ themselves over the past few years.
A broken body and an almost reclusive mood were the dark times for O’Connor before he found the light and a path back to his home state of Queensland in 2019.
Equally, the Reds plunged so far from the heady heights of the 2011 Super Rugby final triumph that they were a lame, unloved 15th of 18 teams in the 2016 season. They could barely draw 10,000 fans to a game.
Both the Reds and O’Connor have rebuilt their status in a way many thought was beyond them.
“We did it,” beamed O’Connor after the 19-16 triumph.
Indeed. A crowd of 41,637 had gone bananas in those frantic closing minutes of scrum penalties, yellow cards, a random quick tap, brilliant try-line defence by the Brumbies and last rolls of the dice from the Reds.
The Brumbies had just 13 men on the field when flyhalf O’Connor finished it himself by spearing over the tryline after a cool pass out of the traffic from kid halfback Kalani Thomas.
It was surreal. The Brumbies have every right to wonder what exactly happened.
Young forward Nick Frost even raised his hands in celebration because he thought full-time was to be called. Yet again, the Reds had penalty advantage and another bombardment of pick-and-drives near the line was ignited.
Referee Nic Berry will be coping flak just because those last few minutes seemed so abstract. It will take a forensic look at the video to work out if every call of the last five minutes was spot on.
The night had everything, even 129kg of Taniela Tupou in tears celebrating and wishing mums a happy Mother’s Day for Sunday.
O’Connor’s legacy in Super Rugby before he joined the Reds in 2020 was playing some good matches and producing some brilliant moments but never playing in a Western Force or Melbourne Rebels team remotely of grand final quality.
This Super Rugby AU title is the vindication of his makeover.
As coach Brad Thorn said only recently, “there’s so much of his story still to write.”
“He’s got his house in order and the only thing he’s being talk about for is rugby. It’s all in a positive light. Isn’t that cool?,” Thorn said.
“It’s a great story because he’s done what he said he’d do.”
Reds Jordan Petaia, Angus Scott-Young and Tate McDermott were all little kids in the grandstands at the 2011 Super Rugby final.
That climactic night helped drive their dreams.
What they did beside man-of-the-match Fraser McReight and others in May, 2021 will ignite ambition and dreams amongst another generation of young rugby dreamers.
So what five things did we discover from this pulsating Reds-Brumbies finale?
1 NON-STOP FIGHT FROM THE REDS
The Reds were not the best side or the slickest functioning for the bulk of the match. Fight, heart...that’s currency in big finals too.
For the third time this season, the Reds have grabbed victories over the Brumbies at the death. That’s a trait any crowd can thrill to and the DNA has been transferred directly from impressive coach Brad Thorn.
2 VALETINI TIME
Brumbies No.8 Rob Valetini would have been a worthy man-of-the-match if his side had got up.
His direct, strong running and big tackling were terrific. He is a Test backrower against France in July on that form and his season.
3 PETAIA FRUSTRATIONS
Jordan Petaia is a wonderful player but he’s becoming something of an enigma.
A loose, pushed pass over the sideline and being fleeced when running the ball up from a kick-off were reflective of a season where he didn’t treasure the ball enough.
4 WHAT NOW FOR THE REDS?
The May 22 clash against the Crusaders at Suncorp Stadium is going to be a blockbuster with the potential for another 35,000-plus crowd.
Testing themselves against the best Kiwi sides will be absorbing.
A Friday game this week against the Highlanders in Dunedin is going to be a tough one with fresh hangovers.
It’s a tough one isn’t it? A 20-8 penalty count against the Brumbies is a landslide.
Based on the season’s standard, Rob Valetini probably had to get his yellow card for a high-chest tackle on Jock Campbell.
Personally, I want to see mitigating factors come into play far more. Campbell was lowering his body height and that made a big difference.
Referee Nic Berry was the man for the final but even he will look over the video and see if he got everything right.