Reds captain James O’Connor has put Super Rugby AU on notice, warning that his side still have plenty of room for improvement despite thumping the Waratahs 41-7 in their season-opener on Friday.
The Queenslanders put their long-standing traditional rivals to the sword at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, running in five tries to catapult themselves to the top of the Super Rugby AU standings.
Central to their victory was O’Connor, who put in a flawless performance in his first match as captain of the Reds since regular skipper Liam Wright was ruled out for most of the season.
Pulling the strings from No. 10, the 30-year-old set-up two tries and was perfect from the kicking tee, while also proving his worth as a kicker with ball in hand, landing a 50-22 kick to earn his side an attacking lineout deep inside enemy territory.
Others, such as young flanker Fraser McReight and exciting wing Filipo Daugunu, were also instrumental in guiding the Reds to a big first-up win, but O’Connor told media post-match that there is still plenty of work to be done moving forward.
“Good start to the year. It wasn’t as clinical as we can be, but there were so many positives and that game really could have had the capacity to blow out and get a lot sloppier than it did,” he said.
“There were a couple sort of knock ons, a few offsides and whatnot, but I felt we stuck to our structure well and we did exactly what we said we would.”
Reds head coach Brad Thorn agreed with O’Connor’s assertions, although he noted that his side’s lengthy scoreless period between the end of each half was a source of frustration.
“I thought that there’d be some errors tonight. There’s some stuff we can easily sort out, like the offsides and different things like that, but I thought there was some good, entertaining rugby in that first half,” Thorn said.
“Pleasing conversion rate when we were up in their 22, something we’ve been chipping away at, but there was a bit of an abyss there for about a 30-minute, 35-minute period. It was frustrating, but the guys got some pay there at the end.
“You’d definitely take the win. If you told me that score before the game, you’d happily take it, so it’s a start.”
He added: “There’s a lot of positives. There’s a lot of work to be done. It helps you stay grounded, that second half, and we’ll have a tough assignment next week.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 22, 2021
While it will take a few weeks before it’s known how well the Reds can truly perform this year, there seems to be no lack of self-confidence and inner belief for the Queensland side.
Favoured by many to go one place better than last year and claim a Super Rugby AU crown, the Brumbies will be acutely aware of how much of a threat the Reds pose to their champion status.
That’s not to say the Canberra-based side didn’t get their title defence off to a good start, though, as they left Perth with a 27-11 victory over the Western Force at HPF Park.
Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar was adamant the Western Australian side provided his team with a stern challenge, but was pleased his side came through with a win ahead of their clash with the Waratahs at GIO Stadium this weekend.
“If you had have said before the game, ’27-11, Dan and Al [Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa], would you take that?’, we both would have said, ‘Yup’,” he said.
Alaalatoa added that his side’s next match against the Waratahs isn’t one they can afford to take lightly, even if they aren’t seen as serious title contenders this year.
“It’s always a tough match against the Tahs, especially at home at GIO. I think they definitely have a point to prove,” he said.
“Unsure of the score [in the Reds game] but I think everyone’s just writing them off, so I’m sure they’re going to come up on Saturday with a point to prove and that’s something we can continue to build on for ourselves heading into that game.”
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