Ballymore Beat: Another modern Reds v Brumbies classic

Sat, Mar 30, 2024, 12:24 AM
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker

The modern spice between the Queensland Reds and ACT Brumbies has done everything to turn the slowest-burning rivalry in Super Rugby into one of the most riveting.

Australia's two leading teams in Super Rugby Pacific meet at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night with all the themes covered as well as some new ones.

Since the start of the 2020 season, the clubs have met 11 times. The ledger sits 6-5 to the Brumbies and eight of those games have been settled by a converted try or less. Last year's 52-24 loss to the Brumbies in Brisbane is the anomaly that should still sting those Reds who are involved again.

The last-gasp Jordie Petaia try to win a classic in Canberra in 2021 was a precursor to an equally-stirring decider in Super Rugby AU later the same season.

More than 40,000 fans were roused by that final. It's now a few seasons in the rear vision mirror. Another gripping, high-intensity clash is just what the season needs. It's what new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt needs.

The current Reds should not undervalue how they have helped flip the script on this annual contest into now being a 50-50 affair at every kick-off.

For more than a decade to open the professional era, the Brumbies rode roughshod over the Reds as if they were playing the NRL's lowly Wests Tigers every weekend.

It wasn't as if the Reds lacked quality in the ranks. Even World Rugby Hall of Famers like John Eales and Tim Horan couldn't turn the tidal wave of one-way results.

Between 1996 and 2010, the Reds triumphed on just one occasion in 16 matches against the Brumbies. The droughtbreaker was a 19-18 win at Ballymore in 1999 when Eales, Horan, Dave Wilson, Ben Tune, Toutai Kefu and co finally got the job done.

Winning in Canberra? That took even longer. Quade Cooper's seven penalty goals earned a 31-25 win in Canberra in the Reds' championship season of 2011.

The Brumbies used the "misfits and cast-offs" mentality as potent fuel in their early seasons when their side drew in high-quality recruits who had previously played for the Reds or NSW Waratahs. Adding the Canberra-reared star-burst of George Gregan, Steve Larkham, Rod Kafer and Joe Roff created a savvy side under foundation coach Rod Macqueen.

“We had a smattering of Queenslanders in our early sides like Troy Coker, David Giffin, Brett Robinson and Pat Howard,” former Brumbies back Rod Kafer said.

“It was important in terms of building the team’s culture with a bit of hatred towards the Reds and wanting to prove a point with the 'cast-offs' mentality.”

Kafer remembers the 38-32 win over the Reds in Canberra in 2000 and a bit of niggle between Rugby World Cup winners Horan and Larkham.

“’Bernie’ (Larkham) shanked a clearing kick and Tim said to me ‘Hey Kafe, I can see why you blokes run the ball all the time’,” Kafer recalled with a laugh.

Larkham had entered the game with a recently-broken nose.

“Timmy tackled him and gave his nose the greatest cheese-grater of all time. Tim jumped up and ran away from the trouble that followed,” Kafer added with a smile.

There have even been blood links between the Reds and Brumbies.

Twins Saia and Anthony Faingaa, as Reds, played several times against younger brother Colby between 2010-13. Likewise, former Reds utility Isaac Lucas played against older brother Matt when he was a Brumby in 2019.

Former Wallabies hooker Saia Faingaa was a member of the 2011 side which finally broke the hoodoo with a Reds' victory in Canberra.

“I remember clearly my twin Anthony palming my other brother Colby (the Brumbies flanker) in the face and leaving him with a black eye,” Saia said.

“We won the game but mum told us to stop picking on our little brother."

On Saturday night, Lawson, 25, (Reds) and sibling Hudson, 24 (Brumbies) will relish that rare brotherly tango at Suncorp Stadium. It will be a proud occasion for parents Jennifer and Stuart in the stands.

"'Huddy' and I are close in age but we were two years apart at school. We never got to play together at Padua College, it was just in some pretty wild and fun backyard games growing up," Lawson said.

As two of six brothers, there was never a lack of players when neighbourhood friends were also roped in around their Samford home.

Enough Reds and Brumbies players have featured together in Wallaby camps and Test matches for there to be few attacking traits that fly under the radar from either side.

Lawson knows well what Hudson's qualities will add to the Brumbies.

"He's got speed, he takes on the line and he's got a very handy left boot," Lawson said.

The Reds and Brumbies have often jostled like brothers on the field. The wonderful contests that the modern rivalry has created is built around players who know each other well, some spicy history and often competition for the same Wallabies spot.

And like brothers, they can't dream of coming off second best.