Brave Reds fall short against Lions
All the courage to not concede a point when down to 13 men was wasted when a lack of polish tripped the Queensland Reds in Johannesburg early on Sunday morning.
The match was there for the taking but the Reds instead digested a 27-20 loss to the Lions in wet conditions.
The Reds lost props Taniela Tupou and Josh Nasser to yellow cards mid-match which put the visitors under enormous stress, particularly for the five minutes when the sinbinnings overlapped.
Remarkably, 13 Reds defenders scrambled so well they held the score at 17-13 for five minutes against a full-strength Lions line-up which knocked-on twice to add to their high frustration in that period.
Tupou was carded in the minute before half-time while replacement Nasser, 20, played less than three minutes in his Reds debut before being sin-binned for taking the legs from under a Lions leaper at the lineout.
The Reds were suddenly under huge pressure and had to deploy wingers Henry Speight and Jock Campbell as emergency flankers to pack a makeshift scrum.
Replacement prop Dane Zander managed to drive forward strongly on the loose-head side and somehow the Reds were rewarded with a scrum penalty against all odds when the Lions wheeled it.
All that effort and character seemed to pay off at the 62-minute mark when halfback Tate McDermott sold the Lions' ruck-base defence a trademark dummy-and-sidestep and plunged over close to the line.
That 20-17 lead had been built on six minutes of repeated scrum shunts. When three successive penalties were awarded, thanks to Tupou owning the scrum, the Reds set another.
The game had few scintillating moments of attack but it was enthralling to see if the Reds could stay out of their own way long enough to pinch the result.
They could not.
Hamish Stewart's selection at inside centre was all built around his starchy defence and he delivered. No back on the field made more tackles (12) and his crunching hit on Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies was typical.
He made several tackle when the Reds defended stoutly for 21 phases before pacy winger Courtnall Skosan pierced the wall with his matchwinning try with 13 minutes to play.
The Reds did have late chances to level the score but a Tupou gallop into space shrivelled with no open support player and the Reds' final scrum was wasted.
Replacement halfback Moses Sorovi darted to the blindside but threw an awful hospital pass to fullback Bryce Hegarty so the ball arrived high and at the same moment as defender Skosan.
Winger Jock Campbell was one of the Reds' best because he kept errors out of his game. He had given the Reds an early 10-5 lead when he knocked down a Lions' kick through with his legs.
He flipped the loose ball to McDermott, another strong performer, before backing up for a 40m run to the tryline.
The frontline Reds scrum dominated, Wallaby Izack Rodda stole the first lineout and the general bustle at the breakdown never stopped but little of it was used for attacking raids.
New flyhalf James O'Connor drew two men and put Stewart into a nice hole midway through the second half but that was the best of it.
The Reds tried to play field position in the first half but it's hard to recall a more ineffectual 40 minutes of lame kicking and stunted exits from the Reds.
One Hegarty kick-off flew out on the full and a super Angus Scott-Young turnover was wasted horribly by McDermott kicking the ball out on the full.
On another occasion, O'Connor didn't appreciate McDermott had passed the ball back into the quarter so one clearing kicking of his was brought back 30m to a Lions' lineout 15m out.
"We cost ourselves with poor discipline and we need to fix our exits because we were trapped in our own half when our wet weather plan was to keep the ball down their end," disappointed Reds skipper Liam Wright said.
LIONS 27 (T Green 2, M Schoeman, C Skosan tries; E Jantjes 2 con, pen goal) bt REDS 20 (J Campbell, T McDermott tries; B Hegarty 2 con, 2 pen goals)