The St.George Queensland Reds have suffered their first defeat of the Harvey Norman Super Rugby AU season, falling 30-27 to the Western Force in a thrilling contest in Perth.
Momentum swung both ways throughout the 80-minutes at HBF Park, with Queensland racing out to a 21-7 lead before the home side clawed back to trail 21-15 at the half-time break.
The Reds held a four-point lead with 10 minutes to play, but it wasn’t to be for the visitors as a late try sealed victory for the Force and delivered the West Australians a finals berth in the final round of regular season fixtures.
Head coach Brad Thorn said: “Well done to the Force.
“Going into their first finals appearance, it’s really good for Rugby over here in Western Australia and a really good crowd considering today around the COVID stuff, very noisy and vocal.
“They hung in there and they got the result that they needed at the end, just want to take my hat off to everyone involved in Rugby in Western Australia.
“From our point of view, it was pretty disappointing not to get that win at the end there but credit to the Force and what they did.
“For us, we had our opportunities, but we didn’t get the result we wanted.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s on to what’s in front of us now."
A lifting tackle saw Force centre Tevita Kurindrani shown a yellow card in the opening stages of the match and Queensland quickly capitalised through Hunter Paisami. In his return from a calf complaint, the Wallaby outside centre steamed onto a Hamish Stewart short ball before bulldozing his way through four Force defenders to open the scoring for the Reds. O’Connor made no mistake with the conversion to open up a 7-nil lead.
The home side hit back quickly courtesy of a Jordan Olowofela intercept try, with Domingo Miotti’s conversion levelling the scores at 7-all.
Queensland reclaimed their lead minutes later thanks to a stunning Taniela Tupou effort, the prop bulldozing his way through seven defenders to streak over 20-metres and score his side’s second try of the night. O’Connor again converted to put the score out to 14-7 at the 12-minute mark.
Toni Pulu was yellow carded in the 22nd minute to again reduce the Force to 14-men and Queensland again made the most of their advantage, this time through Filipo Daugunu. The flying winger scored off a well-worked scrum play, Tate McDermott sending him flying through a gap with a deft inside-ball off his hip. O’Connor’s third conversion made the score 21-7.
A Miotti penalty and Feleti Kaitu'u try cut the home side’s deficit to six-points late in the opening half, as the Force fought back to trail by six-points at the break.
Jordan Petaia became the third player of the night to be yellow carded early in the second stanza and the Force soon made the most of their advantage through Olowofela who crossed for his second try out wide. Miotti missed the conversion chance, as Queensland held onto a narrow 21-20 lead at the 48-minute mark.
A 45-metre O’Connor penalty then stretched the Reds’ lead to 24-20, but Miotti quickly responded with a three-pointer of his own to again bring the Force within one-point.
Jeremy Thrush was shown a yellow card in the 68th minute for taking out scrumhalf Kalani Thomas, with O’Connor slotting the ensuing penalty goal to extend the Queensland advantage to 27-23.
A third try to Olowofela saw the Force claim their first lead of the match in the 75th minute, with Miotti’s conversion giving his side a 30-27 lead in the final minutes.
Queensland had the opportunity to snatch victory in the last minutes of the game, but the hosts were able to hold on to seal the first finals appearance in their club’s history.
After securing the minor premiership, the Reds have the week off next weekend before returning to Suncorp Stadium for the Super Rugby AU Grand Final.
Tickets will be available to the public from 9:00am Tuesday morning via https://bit.ly/3vhxsoz.