Reds coach Brad Thorn has found genuine depth in his squad but a dominant forward showing could not propel Queensland to a pre-season win against the Chiefs at Ballymore on Friday night.
A quartet of returning Wallabies was not enough to get the Reds past the visitors, who won 21-19 in front of 4812 fans at Queensland’s spiritual home of rugby after a two-try blitz in the opening 10 minutes.
Thorn summed up his side’s entire pre-season when he said they “worked hard for a loss” – unable to convert a dominant scrum into points in a messy first half in which the visitors scored two early tries against the run of play.
The returning Taniela Tupou helped the front row dominate the Chiefs in the opening stanza and there were further good signs when the Reds lost nothing as Thorn rolled his bench forwards into the game.
“Obviously the scrum had some dominance, I thought our conditioning, I was pleased with the body language of the guys on a muggy sort of night,” Thorn said.
“It’s competitive and that’s where we’ve been aiming to get to.
“Ideally, we’re competitive across all positions and we’re getting, I feel, closer to that.
“You saw the second front row come on and do well, and some other guys.
“JP (Smith) wasn’t playing, the locks changed, they did reasonably well, the loose forwards, so across the team you’re looking for that depth and that competition and you’re hoping that helps your standards to be high.”
The night started poorly for the Reds, who conceded a try in the second minute to Chiefs fullback Shaun Stevenson after a loose pass from Wallabies winger Sefa Naivalu led to an early turnover.
And things improved little in the opening 10 minutes, with Stevenson again in the thick of the action, putting through a neat grubber for outside centre Bailyn Sullivan to pounce.
The Reds held their own for the next 20 minutes and while they dominated the scrum, they were unable to convert that pressure into points.
“Just with our attack, there wasn’t much going on and then finally, some life started to get breathed into our attack and we started to get to have some structures and play out some footy,” Thorn said.
“It was good to finally see some footy played.
“The first half, I imagine, would have been a tough one for the fans.”
Things opened up more in the second term, with the Reds finally finding some space but they squandered possession through turnovers and poor kicking options.
Harry Hoopert opened Queensland’s account in the 50th minute as the Reds barged over following after Caleb Timu rumbled his way forward off the back of the scrum.
Timu was outstanding in the second half and his efforts helped lead to a penalty from which Tate McDermott darted over after playing on quickly.
But the Reds’ efforts to get back into the game were in vain after they conceded a third easy try to Tyler Campbell from a neat Sullivan cross kick.
“It was disappointing because if someone’s going to score against you, you want it to be an absolute tussle to get that try. They were two easy ones,” Thorn said of the opening stages.
“And then we spent the rest of the game getting back to that space and then (we conceded) another easy one there.
‘It’s a little bit frustrating but there was good stuff to take out of the game and there were bigger, more stuff to learn for the future.”
Kerevi, who had 40 minutes in his return, was pleased with his hitout and while disappointed with the backs’ inability to keep the ball in hand, felt standards had been set, particularly in defence.
“The lungs are ticking over, it felt good out there with the boys, the boys are really fit, so (there are) just little lessons for us in attack and holding on to the pill, especially down their end, especially in Queensland where it’s pretty dewy with the humidity,” he said.
“But watching the forwards have a go in the scrums was pretty impressive.
“It was an awesome performance from the forwards and us backs have just got to clean it up.”
The pre-season efforts of defensive coach Peter Ryan and the Reds’ fitness team showed, Kerevi said.
“I think (cohesion will come) just knowing our own roles in the team, I think our connection in defence really showed,” her said.
“We held them off at the line for quite a while and that’s the culture that we’ve set.
“We want to back our game on defence first and then our attack will come off the back of that, so I thought that really showed.”
Queensland play the Highlanders in Dunedin in the round two of the Super Rugby season on February 22.
Tries: Stevenson, Sullivan, Campbell
Cons: Sullivan 2, Stevenson
Tries: Hoopert, McDermott, R Smith
Cons: Hegarty, Daugunu