The Emirates Western Force turned in a much improved team performance up against reigning FxPro Super Rugby champions Queensland as both sides scored two tries but the boot of Reds flyhalf Mike Harris proved the difference following a flawless nine shots on goal.
While the 35-20 result emphasised the impact that Harris had on the match, it didn’t accurately reflect the performance of the Emirates Western Force who showed great character and fight after half time.
Staring down a 17 point margin and a pumped up Reds outfit following two first half tries, the West Australian’s scored 14 unanswered points in the second half to get within six with 25 minutes to play.
Tries to David Pocock and James Stannard sent a scare through the Queenslanders hit back with penalties to extend the margin back out late in the game.
While the Emirates Western Force will head back to Perth without a point for their efforts, they did show there is only a fine margin between them and the benchmark side in the competition, and with a few minor tweaks the WA side can be a real threat in 2012.
In danger of seeing a blow-out result after 40 minutes, Coach Richard Graham applauded the resilience and fighting qualities of his squad was enthused by the improvement across the park, particularly in the backs, following on from their round one defeat.
“I was really pleased with our character immediately after half time,” Graham said. “We tried to play a little too much in the opening 40 minutes, particularly in and around the midfield. We didn’t panic at half time and knew that if we played at the right end of the field and applied some pressure that we’d actually score some tries.
“After we went over for that second try we need to continue to play at the right end of the field but weren’t able to keep that position consistently. In those conditions it was critical to building pressure and scoring. We will continue to learn from the result and practice so that we can convert tries into wins.”
Ball security was at a premium for both sides as the heavens opened just before kick-off and heavy rain set in for the majority of the opening half. The Reds enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges with Ben Tapuai scoring the opening try of the match wide on the left after 20 minutes.
Then, with five minutes remaining in the half, Reds No8 Radike Samo snatched an intercept in his own half and sprinted 50 meters to dot down under the posts. Harris’ conversion and another penalty right on the half time bell saw the Queenslanders open up a 17 point advantage and the Emirates Western Force looked gone for all money.
The West Australian’s though proved they are made of much sterner stuff in 2012 and refused to be bullied into submission in the second half. Far from the Reds enjoying free reign, the Emirates Western Force came out with great intent and following a reshuffle in the halves they looked more potent in attack.
Young flyhalf Ben Seymour was brought into the action for his debut in FxPro Super Rugby and starting 10 James Stannard moved into halfback. The change had almost immediate results as Stannard played a quick ball from the breakdown to feed skipper David Pocock who barrelled his way through the Reds defence to score.
Five minutes later the Perth side was again in good position and this time Stannard took the ball himself and shimmied his way past the Queenslanders to bring the margin back to just six.
From there the game tightened with neither side able to make a decisive break.
The margin was nine with four minutes to play but two more successful penalties from Harris put some space on the scoreboard as he took his personal tally to 25.
After starting the season with back to back away matches, the Emirates Western Force head home to play the Hurricanes at nib Stadium on Friday night.
Queensland Reds: 35 (Tries: Ben Tapuai, Radike Samo; Con: Mike Harris 2/2; Pen: Mike Harris 7/7; DG: Will Genia 0/1)
Western Force: 20 (Tries: James Stannard, David Pocock; Con: James Stannard 2/2; Pen: James Stannard 2/3)