As a Reds supporter, I am disappointed at the loss to the Western Force on Thursday evening.
Equally I must admire the tremendous amount of heart that the Force bought to the game. The hot and sweaty Perth evening and a referee veering towards the fussy side with a lot of calls didn’t make for pretty rugby, but the Force adapted to the conditions while the Reds did not.
The men from the west’s forwards had a huge night, smashing the Reds at the breakdown, ruining the Reds’ lineout with defensive jumpers, and the reserve props taught their less experienced Reds counterparts a lesson at scrum time.
The Force backs, you wouldn’t have mentioned them a year ago, but they combined with the pack to pressure the more highly rated Reds backline with smothering rushing defence, kicked wonderfully for field position and had the finishers to turn the pressure into tries. Man of the match winger Chance Peni in particular jumped from obscurity into the national rugby spotlight, doing his chances of a Wallabies call up this year no harm at all, scoring a try.
The Reds showed what a dangerous attacking side they can be in the first half of the match, putting Eto Nabuli over the try line three times for a rare Super Rugby hat trick.
However a lot of opportunities were lost due to handling errors in the slippery conditions. We saw a bit of effective kicking from Quade Cooper and Duncan Paia’aua, with the Reds mixing it up with short kicking to counter the rushing defence and longer shots for field position.
Cooper certainly has a boot with the power and knows how to find space, but it didn’t feature quite enough given the circumstances and in any case, he was duelling with the only other current Wallaby with a matching or better kicking game, Dane Haylett-Petty.
The Reds’ game plan reminded me a bit of the Wallabies loss to England in the second Test last year, where the Wallabies failed to adapt to rainy conditions in Melbourne and unsuccessfully tried to play ball-in-hand rugby.
It was another lesson for running rugby obsessed Australian coaches, players and fans that in this game you must be prepared to adjust and kick when the weather gods decide to make life difficult, so we may as well all learn to enjoy the kicking game. In the second half the Reds appeared to run out of steam. Perhaps as hot favourites they didn’t take the Force seriously enough, irrespective it was a hard lesson and I am glad that they learned it early in the season.
But night is the Force’s and it is important to remember that they achieved their win while suffering two big injuries in Adam Coleman and Jono Lance, hopefully both of which will not keep the players out of the game too long. I personally believe that they now have the backline cattle and coaching smarts to back up their forward pack, that would have put the Reds under threat even had the conditions been more suited to running rugby.
I was also incredibly impressed with the passion of the Sea of Blue, the Force fans who made so much noise in supporting their team. To me it exemplified why the current talk about winding up the Force in WA and plonking it in Western Sydney or even closing the franchise entirely, is entirely wrong headed and completely miserable.
Call me a relic of the amateur era but I don’t believe that rugby in Australia is supposed to just be about some theoretical advantages for the national team from having Wallabies in the same teams.
Nor is it about chasing theoretical commercial opportunities in the already congested football market in Western Sydney. It is most definitely not about serving up the abolition of a fellow Australian franchise to SANZAR as a quick fix for their abominable Super Rugby draw, when the current shambles has everything to do with offshore greed and politics and nothing to do with rugby in Western Australia.
Rugby in this country should be about making sure that as many fans of the game as possible have an elite team to follow in their city outside of Test season, a team for rugby playing kids in each city to aspire to.
This Queenslander thinks that we should all be fighting tooth and nail in SANZAR to ensure that Western Australians get to keep the Force and to paraphrase a certain Western Australian, I think that anybody who believes that we should throw the Force under the bus for our own selfish reasons is an un-Australian bum.