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Opinion

Loss of Tupou is an opportunity for the Queensland Reds to show grit

2nd May, 2022
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2nd May, 2022
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The first inkling that I had during Friday night’s Queensland Reds game against the Waikato Chiefs that something was wrong with blockbusting prop Taniela Tupou was near the beginning of the first half when the Reds were on the attack at the Chiefs try line in front of me.

I bellowed, “Pass it to Topou!” but they didn’t, with Tupou limping into position just that bit too late. We all know the rest: the big fella bravely nursed his calf injury until the 44th minute before succumbing.

It is reported that Tupou is likely to be out for the rest of the Super Rugby season and perhaps the mid-year England series, though other reports have advised that the Reds are taking advice on this.

I would prefer Tupou was given all the time he needs to recover. He will obviously be a massive loss to the Reds and the Wallabies, but in the big scheme of things, risking chronic injury through a rushed recovery isn’t worth it. It is not like his injury presently threatens Australia winning the World Cup.

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As for the current Super Rugby tournament, I reckon the remaining Reds forwards have what it takes to step up without Tupou.

The Chiefs’ forwards are a tough as nails outfit and won a lot of contests as did the Reds. The only mistake that worried me was when the larger Reds forwards failed to help engage Chiefs behemoth hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho, with flanker Fraser McReight bravely attempting a low tackle, only to be trampled and to have a try scored for his efforts.

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It isn’t a characteristic mistake for the Reds, but it is important that the players think on their feet to prevent it happening again.

Captain Tate McDermott was imperious as ever from No.9. The Kiwi lady behind me who didn’t know who he was exclaimed, “He is really nippy!” as he made a trademark dart.

I also thought flyhalf Lawson Creighton did really well in his second start at 10, despite having the biggest boots to fill for the injured James O’Connor. He created a couple of good attacking opportunities that stood out: the dummy and run which led to the first penalty, as well as the long grubber kick that was picked up by McReight, who was just short of a try before a brilliant bit of cover defence from Quinn Tupaea knocked the ball free.

Where the real improvements are needed from Friday night’s loss is in the decision-making from the players with numbers 11 to 15 on their jerseys.

The Reds were clearly coached to kick for field position, which made sense against a team like the Chiefs, who are excellent at the breakdown and can turn a turnover into a try in the blink of an eye. The Reds’ outstanding cover defence stopped the one occasion that that nearly happened in the second half, but it is clear why the coaches used a kicking-based game plan to limit the number of opportunities for turnovers that the Chiefs could enjoy.

However, when the team is behind 15 or 20 minutes from full-time, it is time for initiative in attack and it is unreasonable to rely completely on the 9, however good McDermott is, the new No.10 or the coaches who are not even on the park.

Reds coach Brad Thorn during the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between the Queensland Reds and the Fijian Drua at Suncorp Stadium on March 12, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

 (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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Each back is the one who has been watching his opposite number and what is going on around him for at least 60 minutes and players as experienced as Filipo Daugunu, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami and Jock Campbell should be able to identify a potential opportunity, communicate if necessary and take it.

Josh Flook can be included in that expectation, because despite the fact that he is on the new side to Super Rugby he wants to emulate that smartest of backs, Conrad Smith, so from now on is his opportunity to do so.

With the Reds’ outstanding support play and the power running potential from the bench that the Reds had on Friday night in Lukhan Salalkaia-Loto and Seru Uru, any breakout by the backs would have had good odds of turning into points. However, the kicking continued and not enough opportunities were created, with the game resulting in a close loss.

Reds fans can always rely on their team to put in their best physical effort, but it is at times like this when talismanic leaders like O’Connor and Tupou are not available, that the real challenge for each player to apply maximum mental effort and personal leadership becomes vital.

I am looking forward to seeing how these men apply themselves for the rest of the season, to keep the Reds winning.

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