Rugby is an 80-minute game and the Queensland Reds used every second when flying winger Dom Shipperley ran 75 metres to touch down as the final siren was sounding to clinch a nail-biting 25-21 win over arch-rivals New South Wales at ANZ Stadium last night.
That was gut-wrenching for the Waratahs, given the men-in-blue were the better outfit on the night for 79 minutes and 30 seconds, leading 21-18 having scored two unanswered tries.
But it’s never over until the fat lady sings, and she sure sung long and loud for Queensland as most of the 32,071 crowd sat stunned.
There were two critical moments in this fascinating battle where both teams were a little rusty, but totally committed.
First up, in the 54th minute, rival wingers Tom Kingston (NSW), and Queensland’s Digby Ioane both leapt for a high ball that came off Kingston and clearly went backwards into the waiting hands of Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau who scooted 40 metres to outpace Will Genia and Luke Morahan to score.
Not so ruled referee Jaco Peyper, incorrectly believing the ball went forward.
Had skipper Daniel Halangahu converted the “try”, New South Wales would have led 18-15 and it may well have been a vastly different ball game.
The second critical moment led to the Shipperley try.
Waratahs’ replacement half-back Brendan McKibbin made a snap decision in mid-field with a minute left on the clock to kick to his unmarked winger Kingston.
McKibbin didn’t find Kingston or touch that allowed the Queenslanders to mount their last-ditch attack that Shipperley finished off so superbly.
Top of the list, Queensland’s goal-kicker Mike Harris, the fly-half replacement for chief play-maker Quade Cooper. Harris will never be a Cooper in general play, but his deadly-accurate goal-kicking is worth his weight in gold.
That is especially so in this penalty-ridden era, where refs are constantly blowing the pea out of their whistles.
So far Harris has landed 15 from as many attempts on top of 10 from 10 in the trials. When Cooper returns from injury, coach Ewen McKenzie must find a permanent place for Harris.
The Waratahs unearthed an exciting prospect in utility back benchman Bernard Foley. His days on the bench should end immediately. With his speed, great hands, and ability to read a game in a flash, he’s a starting XV must.
Waratah lock Kane Douglas has plenty of weight to throw around, and last night he did so with gusto. Standing 202cm (6ft 8), and stopping the scales at 122 kgs, Douglas made his presence felt all night. He has future Wallaby written all over him.
South African half-back recruit Sarel Pretorious came to New South Wales from the Cheetahs with the reputation of a poor defender. Pretorious put that myth to rest by tackling everything that moved. And his combination with much-maligned stand-in skipper Halangahu totally outshone the Reds’ combination of Genia and Harris.
On the other side of the coin, Queensland rarely win when champion play-makers Genia and Ioane take a back-seat. Both were as quiet as church mice for the entire journey.
On that basis alone, the Queensland Reds will still be the side to beat once Genia and Ioane hit their straps.
The same applies to the New South Wales Waratahs once their injured Wallabies Rocky Elsom, Drew Mitchell and Berrick Barnes return – while Dan Vickerman and Lachie Turner will be watching Super Rugby 2012 from the player’s enclosure.
Leaving the worst until last, let’s have no more of referees Bryce Lawrence and Jaco Peyper, who controlled the two Australian rivalry games.
Neither can cut the mustard at this level, missing so many glaring infringements, and making obviously wrong rulings.
I’m tempted to suggest they learn their trade refereeing under 15s. But that would be grossly unfair to the kids.