Queensland Reds captain Tate McDermott, benched late in the demoralising Super Rugby loss to the Highlanders, appeared to question coach Brad Thorn’s strategy around the No.10 position, saying newcomer Lawson Creighton was “thrown to the wolves” in the past three games.
The Reds’ freefall continued and they could be overtaken by the Waratahs on Saturday after losing Harry Wilson to a worrying head injury. A spokesman later told The Roar that Wilson has a concussion but was “up and about”.
The Highlanders’ replacement scrum-half Folau Fakatava sparked a second half comeback from the Kiwi visitors in a 27-19 win at Suncorp and McDermott bit hard on a question about missing playmaker James O’Connor after the game.
McDermott, surprisingly replaced for the final 10 minutes with the Reds needing to score twice, cut a dejected figure on the bench as the clock wound down, and was miserable in the post match interview.
He said the team had failed to give enough support to JOC’s replacement Lawson Creighton, who has been exposed badly in his three games at No.10.
“A bit of deja vu really,” McDermott said. “The kicking was poor all night, and discipline. I’m sick of saying the same stuff every week and trying not to be negative. After playing in that game it’s pretty hard not to be.
“You can make all the excuses you want. James is a class 10 and he’s shown his worth for us in the past but we have to do more to support Lawson. We’re letting him down. He got thrown to the wolves there – he hadn’t played any minutes at 10 a few weeks a go and bang when the Kiwis come over he’s in the hot seat.
“It’s myself included – we’re not helping him out. We’ve got to do so much better.
“I’ve got to give better service to him but we have guys out there like (fullback) Jock (Campbell) and how many times did our centres kick tonight?
“There’s so much pressure on Lawson to steer the ship for us and I need to help him out more, particularly in those moments when things aren’t going our way.”
The Reds led 12-10 at half time – with two tries to one – but failed to make the most of a two player advantage for eight minutes as the Highlanders had two players sin binned in the opening quarter of the game.
Tries to Jock Campbell and Josh Flook, spectacularly soaring high over Mitch Hunt wide on the right, gave the Reds a good start but the Reds had the same failing as the past few weeks, failing to make the most of their chances.
Soon after half time Wilson charged through and hit the ground heavily. The game was stopped for several minutes and was taken from the field on a medicart.
Highlanders coach Tony Brown made a significant change, bringing off All Blacks No.9 maestro Aaron Smith, and Fakatava carved it up in his stead, setting up a try with a delicious no look reverse flick before adding a five pointer of his own as the Reds were swept aside.
“He’s unreal … no-one plays rugby like he plays rugby; he can beat anyone in a phone box and create for other players,” said Brown.
“He brought a different kind of threat and brought energy to the team as well,” said Andrew Mehrtens on the Stan commentary.
Smith was also full of praise for his replacement.
“I said to him at half time, ‘get ready mate, this suits you to a tee and bring it home’ and he did that,” said Smith. “Folau’s a great talent. and I can say any more than what he did tonight – his impact tonight won us the game.”
Smith said the team, which moved to eighth on the ladder, was happy to be heading back home after three on the road. They beat Fijian Drua last week after losing to the Brumbies.
“I was really pleased with our fightback to be 12-10 at halftime with the conditions and the amount of ball they had,” Smith said.
“I’m so proud of that effort in the second half and back to back wins for the first time this year.”
Highlanders No. 10 Mitch Hunt was also thankful for Fakatava’s input.
“You can see what Folau can do to a game, and especially the sort of game it was, the impact he has,” he said. “I’d hate to be the opposing team having someone like him coming on at half and running rings. He’s great for us.”
Queensland played well in patches but are clearly missing the direction and maturity of O’Connor while Suli Vunivalu was anonymous again on the wing, barely registering a second half touch as the game was ripped from from the hosts’ grasp.
Coach Brown was pleased with the win but admitted the team was still not firing on all cylinders.
“We’ve got to show more belief,” said Brown. “We’ve been under the pump for most of the campaign, the beers taste like crap and the boys are struggling to keep their confidence high.”
Mehrtens asked if the issue was with Aussie beer.
“Shit no, there’s plenty of Speight’s on board,” Brown responded, with the line of the night.
Thorn’s beer would have tasted like poison and he lamented “another wasted game”.
The Reds (7-4), who were crowned domestic champions last season, now boast just two wins from their last 25 games against New Zealand opponents.
Injuries have not helped their cause, with Wilson knocked out and taken from the field after attempting to regather a brilliant Jordan Petaia grubber after a linebreak early in the second half.
Influential Wallabies trio JO’Connor, Taniela Tupou and Hunter Paisami were already on the sidelines, while an ill Harry Hoopert was a game-day withdrawal.
They were sorely missed when the Reds needed to steady and build on a solid start, a bench including ring-ins Sef Fa’agase and Albert Anae unable to match the output of their rivals.
The win pushed the Highlanders, who came back to beat Fijian Drua in Suva last week, into eighth and ahead of the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels.