The ACT Brumbies adopted a new attacking mindset to start the Super Rugby season, but it was the Queensland Reds’ gritty defence which won out on an opening-round arm-wrestle at Canberra Stadium.
The Reds secured just their third win in Canberra in Super Rugby history, scoring a 77th minute try to clinch a 27-17 win on Saturday night.
It was a role reversal of how the two teams were expected to play – the Reds regarded as one of the best attacking teams compared to the Brumbies’ defensive style of the past two years.
And the buzzword out of the Brumbies locker room was “clinical”, a reference to their inability to deliver a killer blow against the Reds despite getting a mountain of possession in the second half.
The Brumbies were held up twice over the tryline, turned down six penalty shots at goal to go on the attack and missed a shot to level the score before fullback Jesse Mogg’s blunder late in the match ended the home side’s hopes of victory.
Queensland replacement back Chris Feauai-Sautia swooped to score in the dying minutes as Mogg dropped the ball close to his line, then fumbled it twice trying to clean up his mistake.
“It was a clanger. But we’ll move on. There were a lot of good things, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We couldn’t close things out, and that’s a credit to the Reds’ defence and character,” said Brumbies director of rugby Laurie Fisher.
“We gave up three soft tries … we created plenty of pressure but we weren’t clinical enough.”
The 2014 Brumbies want to play a more attacking style of rugby this season after being criticised for being too safe in the past two years.
But they lacked the finesse to finish off their attacking advantage and Queensland showed amazing courage to win the match.
“I like the fact we backed ourselves … I felt we had to break them open and we were desperately close to doing that,” Fisher said.
Queensland’s defence was outstanding as the rivals went blow for blow in a round-one derby.
Wallabies playmaker Quade Cooper set up two superb first-half tries, first hitting Lachie Turner with a long ball and minutes late finding flyer Aidan Toua as the Reds skipped to an early lead.
Turner scored his first try since the end of 2010 in his first game for the Reds after trying to move on from his injury-prone NSW Waratahs career.
But it was the Reds’ defence which won them the game. They repelled almost 40-minutes of Brumbies attacking, forcing last season’s grand finalists into making panicked mistakes.
“[The defence] talks a lot about their character, character is a foundation on which you can build things,” said Reds coach Richard Graham.
The Reds have traditionally struggled in Canberra. They won their first game in the capital in 2011 and have won just three times in Super Rugby history.
At times both teams made early-season errors, but Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said the Reds won “the desperate moments”.
“We want to be more clinical … we were up for a lot of it but we need to make sure you’re clinical for 80 minutes and you can’t have any moments where we’re just off,” Mowen said.
Mogg had an up and down night. He got over the tryline in the first half, but was held up by Turner.
Mogg made amends to score in the second half, but he missed a long-range shot at goal in a swirling wind which would have levelled the score and then fumbled a kick with three minutes to go.
Brumbies centre Andrew Smith suffered concussion but could play this week while Pat McCabe needed stitches in his head in his comeback from a broken neck.