The Queensland Reds have been handed a cruel reality check that exposes just how much work they have to do if they want to be regarded as one of the best provincial sides in the world.
The clash between the Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa champions had been billed as a possible Trans-Tasman title decided but Queensland’s 63-28 loss shows just how far off the pace they remain – and just how good the Crusaders are.
Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo’unga’s three tries and eight conversions amassed more points than the entire Reds squad was able to muster, with the Queenslanders unable to notch a record 12th consecutive win at Suncorp Stadium in front of 22,088 fans.
The Crusaders have been at the top of the mountain for so long they practically own the real estate and it was always going to be a big ask for a side that is still a work in progress to dominate one stacked with All Blacks and containing magicians like Mo’unga.
The match was the 10-year anniversary of the Reds’ Super Rugby grand final win over the Crusaders but any hopes of a repeat were dashed in the opening half-hour as the Kiwis scored at almost a point a minute.
Aware of the Reds’ never-say-die attitude this season, the Crusaders were intense and relentless, with Queensland captain Liam Wright praising their effort.
“I’m proud of our guys for not giving up,” Wright said.
“We didn’t execute well at all. Everything we did wrong was punished.
“We found a way at some points but our execution lacked and we paid for it.”
The Crusaders were much too good for the Reds. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
The Reds knew they could not afford a slow start and while they had the required intensity, they were also guilty of errors in the opening five minutes – one that robbed them of a try and another that led to a Crusaders five-pointer.
The Crusaders’ ability to execute with pace and precision left the Reds looking an inferior outfit and the home side’s infuriating habit of kicking possession away proved costly, with the Kiwis punishing every error severely.
While Tate McDermott’s try just before halftime gave the Reds a sniff, they needed to be the first to score after the break if they were any chance of fighting back but conceded another 21 points before Harry Wilson put on a show.
Mo’unga a cut above
It’s one thing signalling Mo’unga as a danger man but stopping him is another altogether.
From his own try in the fifth minute – the first of his hat-trick – to setting one up for Sevu Reece just six minutes later, Mo’unga single-handedly knocked the Reds out of the contest in the opening stages of the game.
He finished with a personal tally of 31 points, directing his team around the park in an outstanding performance.
“We were looking forward to this match, these guys were the champs of their comp and for us it was personal to come over here – champ versus champ,” he said.
“There was hype previous to the game and we were ready to get stuck in.
“For us to come out and play like that, we’ve got to be happy.”
Reds rue misses
When Taniela Tupou knocked the ball on over the line 90 seconds after kick-off, the Reds were disappointed but could not have foreseen just how much it would cost his team.
The Crusaders scored three converted tries in the next 15 minutes and were playing with confidence, where an early Reds try would have set up an arm wrestle that would have played into Queensland’s hands.
While there were several Kiwis in the crowd who have not seen the Crusaders in action against the Reds for almost two years, there were 20,000 fewer people than watched the Super Rugby AU final and the drubbing could cost Queensland moving forward.
Harry Wilson a star
After missing the match against the Highlanders with concussion last week, Wilson returned for the Reds and ran hard all night.
He attempted to turn the match single-handedly with a try of his own and one set up for Suliasi Vunivalu and was crushed after the match given what he labelled a “reality check”.
The Reds mounted a late comeback, scoring three tries in the final minutes with the Crusaders having the match sewn up – two of them while they had a man in the bin – and Wilson was a key part of the fightback.
CRUSADERS 63 (Tries: Mo’unga 3, Reece 2, Grace, Williams, Taylor; Cons: Mo’unga 8; Penalty try; )
REDS 28 (Tries: McDermott, Wilson, Vunivalu, Paenga-Amosa; Cons: O’Connor 4)
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