Rugby: Honours even in Brisbane thriller

Jesse Mogg impressed at fullback. Photo / Getty Images
Jesse Mogg impressed at fullback. Photo / Getty Images

This was a cracker. The game see-sawed, emotions were high, punch-ups nigh - and the battle for the top of the Australian conference was spiced by individual battles for Wallabies jerseys against the Lions.

No one won the former; Brumbies George Smith and Jesse Mogg made obvious advances on the latter.

The Canberra men have an outstanding record in the Reds' fortress; this looked like it would be their eighth win in 10 visits to Brisbane. They did it with their slick continuity, committed defence that often unbalanced the Reds and their ability to engineer and maintain good possession and field position.

But a bravura comeback by the Reds, who camped in the Brumbies 22 for an age, tied up the scores.

Mogg, at fullback, made several telling incursions in the first half. He has pace, elusiveness and good decision-making abilities and he troubled the Reds often.

If Kurtley Beale is absent for the Lions series and James O'Connor is needed at 10, say, the Wallabies could do worse.

Quade Cooper could well make his way back into the national team after his much-publicised difficulties with coach Robbie Deans - but not on this display. He was targeted, had no time and was overshadowed in the first half by Brumbies second-five Christian Leali'ifano though he was involved in the 80-metre break-out and passing movements that led to winger Rod Davies' try to bring the Reds back to 13-12 down.

Leali'ifano is a converted first-five and showed all the cool, decisive qualities needed there, plus highly efficient goalkicking. He scored all 19 points. Again, if the Wallabies found themselves short-suited at 10, they could do worse.

Leali'ifano scored the try that gave the Brumbies a 13-7 lead at halftime after a Mogg raid and the Brumbies clinically worked the space and the numbers.

The Brumbies began as they would have wanted - their scrum dominant, the passes flowing, veteran flanker Smith giving the Reds' young pretender Liam Gill a bit of a demonstration not only at the breakdown but also in getting involved in the attacking waves. Gill is excellent over the tackled ball but does not yet have Smith's gifts in other facets of the game.

The Reds struck back with a strength of their own - the rolling maul, squeezing No 8 Jake Schatz over the line. But the Brumbies were flying into their tackles and making the Reds rush into their work. The Reds ignored countless chances to kick goals, eventually wresting a try to Gill out of repeated assaults on the miserly Brumbies defence. Even Leali'ifano's absence for a yellow card couldn't help the Queenslanders add points. Not even a second yellow card after 70 minutes could swing it their way, though Gill's try made it 19-19.

Digby Ioane announced his comeback from injury and his claim on a Wallaby jersey with an all-action game. Will Genia was the Reds' most influential player but even his energetic mix of sniping runs and long, flat passes couldn't shake the Brumbies defences loose often enough.

Reds 19 (J. Schatz, R. Davies, L. Gill tries, Q. Cooper 2 con), Brumbies 19 (C. Leali'ifano try, Leali'ifano con, 4 pens). Halftime: 7-13.


- Herald on Sunday

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