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Super Rugby thriller! Last-ditch James O'Connor try hands Reds the Super Rugby AU title

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8th May, 2021
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The Queensland Reds are the 2021 Super Rugby champions, having defeated the Brumbies in a 19-16 thriller in the final at Suncorp Stadium.

The Reds had all the possession in the closing stages, but it took them until the 85th minute to get the winning try, James O’Connor crossing for the decisive score.

With the score at 12-16 and just five minutes left on the clock, it looked as if the Reds had blown their chance of winning the title when, after Darcy Swain had been sin-binned for illegally pulling down a maul, Alex Mafi’s lineout throw went awry and the Reds were able to clear their line and earn a lineout of their own.

However, they returned the favour, Fraser McReight picking off Folau Fainga’a’s loose throw and allowing his side to mount one last attack.

The Brumbies did all they could to hold on, but were frequently penalised for infringements both at scrum time and for breaching the offside line, and another yellow card was handed to Luke Reimer to reduce the visitors to 13 men for the last few minutes.

After peppering the try-line with a barrage of pick-and-goes – and bizarrely opting for two quick taps off penalties instead of packing down scrums against an undermanned opposition pack – the Reds finally found the winning score by throwing the ball out the back, O’Connor making the most of the space out wide to fall over for the title-winning try.

James O'Connor of the Reds is congratulated by team mates

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

While the Reds were slow starters in the two previous encounters between these two sides this season, they were first onto the scoreboard in the final through the boot of captain O’Connor after his opposite, Allan Alaalatoa, was penalised for not rolling away.

But the rest of the opening stanza was comprehensively dominated by the Brumbies. The tourists enjoyed 63 per cent of possession and a massive 72 per cent territory before halftime as the Reds were incapable of getting much front-foot ball.

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And while the hosts missed just five of their 81 first-half tackles, they still couldn’t completely shut down the Brumbies attack, Rob Valetini in particular making regular dents in the defensive line with his surging runs.

It was off a Valetini charge that the Brumbies found their first points. A lovely decoy play the next phase allowed Noah Lolesio to find some space and put Tom Banks over the line under the posts.

Noah Lolesio celebrates with teammates

Noah Lolesio celebrates Tom Banks’ try. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The Reds finally got the ball on attack 15 minutes later. Taniela Tupou won his second scrum penalty of the half, and Feao Fotuaika crashed over the line a few phases after the ensuing lineout, only to be held up by Nic White.

O’Connor took another three from the tee, but the Brumbies responded in kind straight off the kick-off through Lolesio, Jordan Petaia penalised for holding on as Valetini won the turnover.

With halftime approaching, Tupou turned villain at the scrum, pinged for angling in, and Lolesio added three more points to put the Brumbies up by seven at the break.

The second half welcomed a distinct change of momentum, with the Reds enjoying the better of the play in the ten minutes after the teams returned from the sheds.

O’Connor had a penalty come back off the woodwork, but a knock-on from Mack Hansen – on the field early after Andy Muirhead went off with an ankle injury – and scrum penalty shortly afterwards meant the lead was pulled back to just four points soon after.

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James O'Connor of the Reds converts a penalty

James O’Connor adds another three points to his tally. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

With 20 minutes to go, the Brumbies were dealt a massive blow. Valetini, the best player on the field up until that point, was sent to the sin bin for a high shot on Jock Campbell. While the initial contact was with Campbell’s chest, Valetini’s shoulder slipped up into the Queenslander’s head, and Nic Berry had little choice but to brandish a yellow card.

Soon after the margin was cut back to just a single point when O’Connor kicked truly once again, but at the same time the Reds lost the services of Petaia due to injury. They had earlier lost Harry Wilson to a bad head clash, while Brumbies lock Cadeyrn Neville was forced off the field with an injury of his own at the same time as Petaia.

However, Reds fans hoping to see their side retake the lead against 14 men were disappointed when Angus Scott-Young took Lolesio high, allowing the young flyhalf to push the Brumbies’ buffer back to four points, leaving the score for the ten-minute period while Valetini was off at three apiece.

But any dismay among the home crowd was well and truly dispelled by the manic last few minutes and O’Connor’s match- and championship-winning try.

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Reds 19 (James O’Connor try; O’Connor 1/1 conversion; O’Connor 4/4 penalties) def Brumbies 16 (Tom Banks try; Noah Lolesio 1/1 conversion; Lolesio 3/3 penalties)

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