Suncorp Stadium is the perfect venue for football exhilaration.
Suncorp Stadium is the perfect venue for football exhilaration. Scott Powick - Daily News

Reds rock Suncorp fortress

EWEN Mackenzie is the rugby coach of the year so far and his Queensland Reds a breath of fresh air.

The Reds' victory over the Crusaders on Sunday brought a terrific night of entertainment from the outstanding Suncorp Stadium, and with it another reminder that Auckland got the Eden Park upgrade horribly wrong.

The Super 15 competition certainly wouldn't be harmed if the lively Reds could shock the old guard by becoming the first Australian team outside of the Brumbies to win the title.

They are still seen as underdogs despite leading the competition, a reflection of their reputation as bridesmaids (at best) and Australia's shattered rugby status.

Maybe there is more to this Reds team than we want to see however and Quade Cooper alone is a revelation with his refusal to join the ranks of the regimented.

McKenzie, who had a very decent record as the Waratahs coach, changed the Queensland rugby culture from the moment he took over last year.

Queensland were either boring losers or boring bridesmaids before that, and more boring than usual before McKenzie's arrival.

They quickly turned Suncorp into a fortress under McKenzie, and have beaten good teams and smashed weak ones there this season.

Suncorp, with its grandstands packed tight to the rectangular field, is magnificent. It is the Southern Hemisphere's football field of dreams and Brisbane, by no means a rugby town, packed the place on Sunday with an Australian Super rugby record of 48,000, many cheering for the Crusaders.

It will be interesting to see if Auckland can match that on Saturday night when the Blues play the Chiefs in a local derby.

You could fill Eden Park though and it would still not emulate the Suncorp experience because the grandstands are shaped incorrectly for football and are too far from the playing area.

A lot of us can look back on the confused stadium debate with regret, for failing to take it in the right direction. Cricket needed to be turfed out of the main arena so a proper football ground could be configured, or else a new stadium should have been built. Rugby, plus league and soccer, will pay a price and for a long time.

Terrific stadiums like Suncorp attract bigger crowds, and generate an atmosphere that players respond to. Better stadiums make better rugby games.

There's a good reason to keep banging on about the stadium topic - with luck it might bring forward the day when Auckland gets a chance to set this right. We can't give up on the dream.

The Reds' victory almost brought the roof down, not that there is or needs to be one in the sunshine state. McKenzie and the Reds players credited the big crowd and terrific atmosphere for lifting them.

The aftermath included interesting language in the reporting. Referee Stuart Dickinson's late penalty decision "cost" the Crusaders. Richie McCaw's response was "diplomatic". These words imply the Reds did not deserve to win, which is unfair.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder grizzled about the ruck penalty at the end of the match, but you could argue all day about Dickinson's call without reaching a consensus.

Rugby is a game of imperfections and interpretations. McCaw may have been unlucky to draw a penalty, but the Reds had worked themselves into a powerful position from which the Crusaders captain was forced to roll the dice with Dickinson. Not for the first time in the match, McCaw lost that contest, and Cooper nailed the winning goal.

Dickinson and his linesmen did miss a crucial Reds knock-on but mistakes happen in sport, and the work goes on to keep them to a minimum. Forget about more video decisions though, please. Sport isn't a forensic exercise.

Dickinson and his mates may have got a few things wrong on Sunday. But not nearly as wrong as the Auckland stadium decision.

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