Reds melt in ‘dangerous’ summer sauna
A HINT of conquest for the Queensland Reds in Canberra on Friday night became a melting moment wasted in Super Rugby's ludicrous summer sauna.
The Reds dominated 25 minutes mid-match but the ACT Brumbies were far more game-smart and composed when it mattered.
How any code of football can kick off in 39C temperatures is beyond most of us but 7436 hardy fans turned out to celebrate a 27-24 victory for first-time captain Allan Alaalatoa and his Brumbies.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar called the conditions "dangerous", saying, "I hope we don't see a season starting near January 31 again."
A late Harry Wilson try from the young standout in his Super Rugby debut was too late for the Reds to scramble anything more than a bonus point.
The Reds' first win in Canberra since 2014 beckoned with 10-point lead at half-time after their best scrums and best passages of handling, which were way too impatient and sloppy overall.
No.8 Wilson is just 20 but he took on a huge work rate (14 runs for 77m), surged through the line several times and several of his offloads stuck.
He'll learn how costly the impatience of youth can be, because an intercept had the Reds on attack at 17-7 early in the second half when he threw a careless flick pass to no one.
Three minutes later, the calmer Brumbies had advanced 80m for impressive winger Tom Wright to score in the corner to ignite the ACT comeback.
Young Reds flyhalf Isaac Lucas was busier than Brumbies rival Noah Lolesio, but he too made a poor decision to run the ball out of his quarter midway through the second half.
He was cornered, gained 10m, not 30m, with a scrambled kick to touch and the Brumbies had field position for electric fullback Tom Banks to sprint over a minute later from an Irae Simone inside ball.
Lolesio's composure in the second half was his impressive trait, at just 20, while Alaalatoa's pass for the opening Simone try was as slick as from any flyhalf.
The Reds had encouraging moments. Centre James O'Connor was a positive all night, prop Taniela Tupou was heavily involved and skipper Liam Wright led by example.
Centre Jordan Petaia's timing was off and fullback Bryce Hegarty was unusually ragged at times in the Reds' costly loose moments.
Reds coach Brad Thorn said: "There's a ruthlessness in professional sports where you get a lead, build pressure and tighten the screws and we didn't do that, which is the disappointment.
"I saw some good continuity, some strikes and the guys fighting back in a first game and will take some learnings from this."
Super Rugby has been played in cold squalls with near horizontal rain in Invercargill, in tropical storms in Brisbane, with snowflakes in Canberra and in the breathless high-altitude heat of Pretoria, but never before in such conditions as those presented on Friday night.
The heat radiating from the warm concrete of the stadium was throbbing, you could heat a pie on any exposed metal fittings, and the smoky haze from the bushfire being fought to the south in the ACT was in the distance.
Some players lost 3kg in weight over the 80 minutes, even with constant hydration and the game played in quarters for extra drinks breaks.
The Brumbies swarmed all over the Reds early with giant Melbourne Storm wing recruit Solomone Kata smashing the ball forward.
The Hegarty try on half-time for 17-7 was even better because the pressure was sustained before Lucas flipped it wide.
You could see good signs from the Reds but impatience and untidiness is a curse they must quickly fix.
BRUMBIES 27 (I Simone, F Fainga'a, T Wright, T Banks tries; N Lolesio 2 con, pen goal) bt REDS 24 (H Speight, B Hegarty, H Wilson tries; B Hegarty 3 con, pen goal).
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNT ABOUT THE REDS
1 POOR COMPOSURE. The Reds played like it was a club trial when they had a 10-point lead not like the clinical pros they need to be. There were two frivolous flick passes in three minutes to open the second half that gave up ball.
2 ATTACKING INTENT. There was more ball movement and passing touches in the backline as there will be now the Reds must back a different style without steamroller Samu Kerevi. Positive glimpses from Isaac Lucas and James O'Connor as a playmaking duo.
3 SCRUM POWER. The Reds gave the Brumbies' all-Wallaby front-row a tough time for 20 minutes in the first half when forcing penalties and it was encouraging to see rookie prop Dane Zander handle the furnace against James Slipper late in the game.
4 HENRY SPEIGHT. The silky mover will be a big plus on the wing with his sharpness and shrewd ability to plug into moves. He scored 46 tries for the Brumbies and the Canberra locals even applauded his first for the Reds.
5 HEAT STROKE. The boffins at SANZAAR should have been made to play a game of touch at half-time to realise you don't play rugby in January, much less 39C heat. They are lucky no player passed out. Never again.
Compiled by Jim Tucker
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