RYAN VREDE watched the Reds nearly squander a 24-point lead but still defeat the Blues 37-31 in Brisbane.
This was billed as the match of the round and didn’t disappoint. They Reds will lament a 15 minute period where complacency allowed the Blues back into the match, but they also will be comforted by another four-try victory.
The Blues can’t feel too disappointed. They were second best for all but the aforementioned period. That they took two points from this fixture should be satisfying, but they will know significant improvements on structured attacks, and defence, are required as the tournament enters its decisive phase.
In his post-match interview Reds captain Will Genia said they had prioritised a good start, acutely aware of the Blues’ potency if they were allowed to find their groove. And boy did they start well.
Their physicality at the attacking collisions was immense, and this allowed them to play at a tempo that troubled the Blues. It was in those first 30 minutes of the match that their evolution under coach Ewen McKenzie was most evident. When presented with a platform of that quality, the Reds of old would have flung the ball about recklessly in search of a spectacular five pointer. In their current guise, patience, precision and sharp decision making rules, and they are as content scoring a beast of a try as they are a beauty.
They controlled the ball superbly, varying their play between sweeping attacks through their back division, and metre making surges at close quarters through the heavies – wing Digby Ioane prominent for the former, while the 34-year-old No 8 Radike Samo delivered a performance that belied his age.
Having depleted the Blues’ defensive line sufficiently, the Reds then picked their moment and executed superbly. They scored two 10-phase tries and unlocked the Blues once more just before the half-time. Quade Cooper converted all three and kicked a penalty for a commanding 24-0 lead.
Cue a defensive capitulation of note. The Reds have a penchant for losing interest for periods of play once they’re up, and the Blues took full toll, hitting back with two tries before the break and another shortly thereafter to haul themselves off the canvas.
The hosts’ power and accuracy in the tackle made the Aucklanders look rudderless on attack for most of the first half, but their generosity in this facet of play thereafter handed the Blues the momentum. A better side would have kicked on from there, but even though Luke McAlister banked a penalty to cut the deficit to three (27-24), the Blues failed to do so. The Reds then stirred from their slumber to respond in emphatic fashion.
Reserve prop James Hanson charged down an attempted clearance to score. Cooper converted and continued his goal-kicking masterclass with a penalty from the touchline five minutes later to establish a 13-point lead going into the final 10 minutes.
The Blues had previously shown a killer instinct and truck loads of ticker to erode a substantial lead, but they couldn’t muster another telling rebuttal. The Reds march onwards towards a home semi-final. They must remedy the flat spots that tend to creep into their game. But other than that, they grow more formidable weekly.