GARETH DUNCAN watched Mike Harris kick 25 points in the Reds’ 35-20 win over the Force in Brisbane.
It looked like the Reds were cruising to an easy victory early in the second half. A penalty shortly after half-time gave the defending champions a 20-point advantage, but the Force fought back with two quick tries against the run of play to cut the deficit to six.
The Reds didn’t panic though, and displayed good composure to hold off a potential second-half fight back from the Perth team. This was mainly thanks to the accurate boot of flyhalf Harris, who hasn’t missed a kick in the tournament so far (23 goal attempts in total). The New Zealand-born pivot, who has filled the void left by injured Wallabies No 10 Quade Cooper, slotted seven penalties and two conversions in the match – which included four three-pointers in the second half. That helped secure his team back-to-back wins.
It was a convincing first-half showing from Ewen McKenzie’s charges, despite the early rain. Harris didn’t miss one of his five attempts in the opening 40, while the Reds also took their try-scoring chances, with outside centre Ben Tapuai and No 8 Radike Samo finishing well to cross the chalk.
Tapaui capitalised on scrumhalf Will Genia’s decision to break down the short side and brushed off two tackles as he dived over in the corner. Samo showed great pace to beat the Force’s covering defence after intercepting a set piece move in centre field.
The Force looked good when building momentum on attack, but errors at crucial moments cancelled out their progress and allowed the Reds to steal the ascendancy. Flyhalf James Stannard could only convert two penalties as the visitors trailed 23-6 at the break.
Harris extended that lead to 26-6 a few minutes after the restart, but the Force surprised with tries through skipper David Pocock and Stannard. Pocock stepped smartly to break in the midfield while Stannard took advantage of poor defending.
Harris then kicked the Reds out of reach with three penalties from difficult field positions. Cooper is only set to return midway through the campaign, but the Reds will be happy with the form of their new flyhalf hero.