Sitting overlooking the try line in the northeast corner of Suncorp Stadium on Friday night, I was looking forward to the Queensland Reds and Western Force play some great attacking rugby before my eyes.
The coin toss had the Force attacking in my direction in the first half and attack they did. The Force gained possession early and surprised us all with two early team tries finished by Jack McGregor and former Queensland junior representative player Byron Ralston, all sparked by decisive playmaking by veteran former Red Jono Lance.
When Ralston scored a woman near me commented of the Reds “now they have a long way to come back”, but the crowd did not seem particularly put out. Perhaps that was because we all had the belief that this Queensland Reds team would double down and fight their way back into the game.
Of course the Reds did fight their way back in, quickly scoring a team try finished by Brandon Paenga-Amosa, then two more by Jock Campbell and Tanielia Tupou in quick succession. From my vantage point, it was particularly impressive to watch the start of the Campbell try.
The move started with a scrum, with Tate McDermott then Hamish Stewart making space with straight running and perfectly-timed, accurate short passes for Hunter Paisami to run on to. The view from behind the players gave a new appreciation for somebody who has never played in the backs of the art of a good outside centre in picking the right line to run to get by the defence, then connecting with support runners to finish off the move.
It didn’t take long before the Force struck back though, with Ralston intercepting a James O’Connor pass near the Force try line to stay ahead of Filipe Dauganu over 80 metres and dot the ball down between the sticks. Dauganu immediately responded, charging down the subsequent conversion attempt, denying the Force two points which would have levelled up the scores at halftime.
Somewhere among all that frenetic first half action, a bunch of young people down near the sideline found time to give a loud, good-natured ribbing to former Reds, Greg Holmes, Andrew Ready and Henry Taefu, who were on the Force bench and warmed up in front of us.
When 37-year-old Queensland legend Holmes was substituted it was nice that he was acknowledged over the loudspeaker for his unexpected return to Suncorp, something that the announcer said they would not normally do for an opposing player.
In the second half it was the Red’s turn to attack down our end of the park and it didn’t take them long to oblige as within five minutes Dauganu had scored an excellent try off the back of another series of enterprising short passes.
O’Connor served the Reds well with his return to the kicking tee, converting all four attempts. In the second half he demonstrated his accuracy yet again with a penalty kick for touch to the sideline in front of me, by knocking the beer out of the hands of a bloke who was cheering him on.
The bloke seemed pretty happy about it, so O’Connor can be assured that since he can knock another man’s beer over and still receive approval his brand is in good shape.
Another bloke from that group was a good sport and then tried for a good ten minutes to get the crowd to do the Mexican wave. As it turns out, social distancing isn’t only good for stopping the spread of coronavirus, so the effort resulted in more of a series of Mexican splashes that went about one section of the stands, but it was good of him to put himself out there.
Back in the game, the final ten minutes were climatic, with Paisami giving up a yellow card for a tip tackle in the 70th minute and leaving the Reds to play on with 14 men until full time. The intensity was ramped up when Andrew Ready for the Force scored a rolling maul try, taking the game within four points.
The supporters in the stands were certainly revved up, but again there was no impending sense of doom as might have been the case in previous years.
The Reds responded, fighting their way back to our end of the park and putting O’Connor in a position to stretch the lead to seven points with a field goal in the 79th minute, then the Reds kept the Force at bay until the game was won.
What a great night out and what a great advertisement for Aussie rugby, so thanks to both the Force and to the Reds for both putting in 100 per cent to make it happen.