Queensland have put Karmichael Hunt’s drugs controversy to one side to post a gutsy Super Rugby win over the Western Force in Brisbane.
Thrashed 47-3 in their opening fixture against the Brumbies and rocked by the news Hunt is facing drug supply charges, the Reds held firm to claim an 18-6 victory on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 14,199 at Suncorp Stadium.
Lachie Turner, a late call-up to fullback after Hunt was stood down from the match, scored 13 points including a try, two penalty goals and a conversion.
Things started badly for the Reds when star recruit James O’Connor was ruled out minutes before kick-off after failing a pre-match medical.
The home team also played most of the match without skipper James Slipper (concussion) and Wallaby James Horwill (hand).
Despite those setbacks, the Reds took an early 6-0 lead through a pair of Turner penalties before the Force struck back with two penalties of their own from five-eighth Sias Ebersohn.
Turner’s try just before the break came after a thrilling passing move down the right wing, started by winger Chris Kuridrani, with Samu Kerevi feeding the Wallaby, who steamrolled Force winger Luke Morahan on his way to the tryline.
The Reds then recovered from the disappointment of a Kerevi effort being ruled out for a forward pass to force a penalty try in the 58th minute to extend their lead to 12 points.
The referee’s call sparked wild celebrations from stand-in skipper Will Genia, who was an inspirational figure amid so many casualties, helping to ease the pressure on stand-in No.10 Nick Frisby.
The Force were their own worst enemy at times, with replacement prop Chris Heiberg copping a first-half yellow card for a deliberate infringement and the visitors giving away 14 penalties.
The Reds also dominated the Force in the scrum, winning 12 of 18 in the match, a stat probably boosted by the away team’s early loss of loosehead prop Francois Van Wyk to injury.
Coach Michael Foley was also given a late headache when Chris Alcock limped off late in the second half with an apparent ankle injury.
Reds skipper Slipper said the win had been immensely satisfying after a tough week all around the club.
“That’s the result we were after,” said Slipper.
“Obviously last week, with a poor performance, this week we really turned it around … put our emphasis on doing our job and that’s playing rugby.
“Very good for our character – it really shone through.”
Slipper said the news of Hunt’s woes had been a shock but the team had moved on quickly after a brief chat.
“You couldn’t escape it but the way the boys came out tonight proves that we are a tight group. We really wanted to come out here and repay the Queensland faithful,” he said.
Reds coach Richard Graham said the decision to omit O’Connor was a precautionary one after he tweaked the knee which had forced him to miss the opening match against the Brumbies.
Force coach Michael Foley revealed after the match Van Wyk had torn a pectoral muscle and would miss the remainder of the Super Rugby season.
Foley said there were no excuses for the defeat and his team had simply been outplayed.
“Whoever you play at this level, you’ve got to come ready to go,” he said.
“I thought we were off tonight and I thought we got punished for it.”