Under the expectant lights of Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, Queensland Reds last night claimed their maiden Super 15 title in the most impressive of ways.
Facing a Crusaders team vying for their eighth championship victory, the home side produced a resilient yet inspired display to become the first Australian’s to lift the title since 2004.
In a match that twisted and turned in typical thriller fashion, the Reds ran out eventual 18-13 winners thanks to some sterling defence and a smattering of individual genius.
With line-ups featuring some of the brightest and best names in the competition, elevated expectations of a classic encounter could certainly have been forgiven. Yet pleasingly, these expectations proved to be well placed, if not a little pessimistic.
The mercurial Dan Carter was of course one of the main protagonists, notching all 13 points for the visitors including an exquisite individual try to match his composed kicking. His counterpart Quade Cooper produced a mature yet typically stylish performance, whilst teammate Digby Ioane got on the scoreboard after a well-executed move.
Yet the moment of the match fell to the Red’s Will Genia. Pinned back in their own twenty two with ten minutes remaining, the scrum half collected the ball and appeared to be drifting across field before a lightening change of pace saw him surge through the Crusaders defence and pick an intelligent line to outpace his chasers and score one of the tries of the season.
With so much talent on show it was befitting that a moment of genius should decide the encounter, and the Australian Player of the Year certainly ensured the match lived up to it’s billing.
And with just under two months until the World Cup begins, such a strong domestic final will have certainly have given other nations a lot to think about.
The Australians first Super 15 win in seven years will give confidence to their young and supremely talented Wallabies squad. The likes of Genia and Cooper are now central figures to a team with only six members holding more than 50 caps, each crafting their game around their natural talent to become real and definite threats. James O’ Connor is another Red developing on early promise, whilst “elder statesmen” Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell will provide experienced heads amongst the youth.
Defeat for the Crusaders will not damage New Zealand’s morale too much, and with an equally strong squad it is hard not to see them challenging come the Autumn. Carter is a given threat, whilst the emergence and evolution of Sonny Bill Williams has been fast and impressive. Richie McCaw will lead a typically strong pack, whilst the likes of Israel Dagg prove they have talented youth to turn to as well.
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Indeed on current form it seems difficult to look past either nation for a winner of the Web Ellis trophy. With so many strong teams in the Super 15 such an entertaining final is a mere snippet of what will be on offer come September and, as exciting as it is for the neutral, it should serve as warning as much as a testament.