Queensland Reds ended a run of four defeats but their horror run with injuries continued in a gutsy but ultimately frustrating 34-22 victory over Moana Pasifika at Suncorp.
Wallabies star James O’Connor limped off after an innocuous kick with 20 minutes to play while soon after centre Josh Flook needed the green whistle such was his pain after damaging a left shoulder.
The game ended in chaos with Moana Pasifika crossing for a try that should have been reversed when the scorer Henry Time-Stowers stepped into touch. That miss from the officials cost the Reds a bonus point, but they thought they’d seized it back soon after when the inspirational Tate McDermott crossed, only to have the try chalked off for a forward pass in the lead up by Seru Uru.
The Reds moved to fifth on 35 points, one behind the Chiefs.
“A step in the direction as far as getting a win but there was a bonus point there and we gave it away,” said a self-confessed ‘grumpy’ Reds coach Brad Thorn.
Thorn will have a nervous wait on O’Connor. While Reds staff said he felt something “go” behind his knee but was just taking precautionary measures, Stan Sport’s Drew Mitchell had a different view after talking to the No.10.
“If that’s the message that the Reds are giving out I won’t give the message James gave me,” said Mitchell. “It’s obviously concerning, you could see the frustration on his face when he came off – the face went straight into the hands.
“I’d be really surprised if he’s suited up next week against the Crusaders.”
The Reds had to show plenty of courage in the second half, down to 13 men at one stage as Moana Pasifika threatened to run over the top of them.
Timoci Tavatavanawai took that literally, going into beast mode to run clean through a stunned Tate McDermott, who spent time on the wing.
That was just about the only time McDermott looked ruffled all night. He was exceptional, as was Harry Wilson on return from a concussion break, while Jock Campbell scored two first half tries.
“I’m gutted for Flooky and James as well,” McDermott said. “Injuries happen and are a big part of this season but it’s brought this team together. From that point of view it’s a positive but I’m gutted for those guys.”
Dave Rennie had a blunt one word answer when Mitchell, interviewing the Wallabies coach before kickoff, asked him to name a couple of potential bolters for the July Tests against England.
While Rennie wasn’t biting, his presence in the audience added some edge to the contest and Reds fullback Campbell laid down a marker.
Campbell’s first try showed great determination while the second had plenty of fortune about it, and his performance will do nothing to douse debate over who wears the No.15 jersey in Perth on July 2.
Tom Banks is the favourite, and Rennie said he would have no problem picking the Brumby even though he has committed his club future to Japan after this season.
Campbell, who has seen off the challenge of Reds teammate Jordan Petaia this season after being relegated to a wing for a month, will be hoping it’s a ‘yes’ from Rennie when he picks the team next month.
Rennie was more forthcoming ahead of the game about Fraser McReight, the No.7 who is stuck behind Michael Hooper at international level, but had a big game on his return from the flu, telling the flanker to keep working hard and wait for his chance.
And McDermott also had a challenge laid down this week, when his Brumbies and Wallabies No.9 rival Nic White signed a one year deal that appears to make him Rennie’s top scrum half choice, had his best game in weeks, working well alongside O’Connor.
McDermott was pivotal to two of the first half tries, sensing a chance after Moana Pasifika spilled a JOC kick and setting Uru loose with a breathtaking grab and pass that led to Campbell’s first try.
“Tate McDermott is so crucial to this team,” said Tim Horan on the Stan coverage. “We’ve seen how much he’s carried this team and how passionate he is about the team That 9-10 combination for the Reds just looked comfortable.
His kick into space later in the half was run down by Flook who sat a pass up for McReight to cross.
Moana started the brighter and dominated the first five minutes, culminating in a try to Solomone Funaki, converted by Christian Leali’ifano.
The Reds found their feet though and O’Connor’s deft kicking in behind caught them out several times.
O’Connor was dogged by injuries last season and missed the first three of their past four defeats. His recovery could make all the difference as the Reds try to claw back lost momentum.