James O'Connor stars as Reds put a dampener on Western Force homecoming
The captain’s curse struck the Reds after just four minutes of Friday night’s match when stand-in skipper Lukhan Salakaia-Loto injured his left ankle in a tackle.
With co-captains Tate McDermott and Liam Wright already out injured, it left O’Connor to take over the leader’s duties, and the star Wallaby rose to the occasion with a hand in all four of the Reds’ tries.
His most important contribution came in the 65th minute with the Reds trailing 16-15 and down to 14 men after Hunter Paisami was sin-binned five minutes earlier for a lifting tackle.
O’Connor unleashed a perfectly-weighted dribble kick for Josh Flook to run onto, with the Reds winger snaring the ball and touching it down in the same movement a split second before being flung out of play.
The try and sideline conversion proved to be the critical moment of the match, with O’Connor setting up Fraser McReight six minutes later to seal the victory and secure the bonus point.
The victory showed the fighting spirit of the Reds, who had been affected by the Queensland floods and an astounding injury list
“It’s just an awesome result,” Salakaia-Loto told Stan after the match. “To sum it up, it was the Queensland spirit. It’s been a massive week for our state, for our people back at home. So to be able to pull a result out there, that was pretty tight and tough against a real strong Force team.
“Full credit to the lads, I’m proud of the fight they put up.”
Force captain Feleti Kaitu’u felt his team let the game slip.
“That one hurts,” he said. “I thought we had them on the ropes there through quite a few periods in the game, but unfortunately we fell short in converting that into points.”
A deft pass from O’Connor while running at the Force’s defending line set up Hamish Stewart to score the opening try of the match in the eighth minute.
And another brilliant pass from O’Connor in the 26th minute opened the door for fullback Jock Campbell to sprint over.
At 12-3 down, the Force needed a spark, and a brilliant chip kick from Force scrumhalf Issak Fines-Leleiwasa proved to be just the tonic.
The ball bounced high in the air over the try line and a charging Kyle Godwin jumped high to latch on to it and touch down for the Force’s opener.
The Reds were on the wrong end of a 10-2 penalty count in the first half, and prop Feao Fotuaika was sin binned in the 37th minute for the team’s accumulation of penalties.
The Force failed to take advantage of the numerical advantage, and they again didn’t capitalise in the 60th minute when Paisami was binned for a lifting tackle on Manasa Mataele.
– Justin Chadwick
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