History repeated for defending Super Rugby champions the Queensland Reds at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night – for all the wrong reasons.
Just like their week four clash with the Sharks, the Reds lost fill-in five-eighth Ben Lucas to injury early before it all went pear-shaped as the Durban-based team ran out 30-17 winners in their knockout final.
And Sharks coach John Plumtree revealed the portents were ominous for the Reds before they had even taken the field.
The last man to coach a Sharks side to a Super rugby finals win over Queensland in Brisbane way back in 1996 – ex-Springboks mentor Ian McIntosh – sent a telling text to Plumtree as he headed into Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
“I was part of that McIntosh era. And he texted me on the way. He said ‘it feels like history can repeat itself’ and it did so it is fantastic,” Plumtree said.
But Plumtree was more thankful for the Lucas injury in the 20th minute due to suspected ankle ligament damage, just like the playmaker filling in for Quade Cooper had broken down in their round four showdown.
Lucas had hoped to step up in the absence of the controversially suspended Cooper – instead the game was turned on its head as the replacement five-eighth was helped off the field.
In an unexpected move, Reds coach Ewen McKenzie shifted 19-year-old utility Nick Frisby – not glaring replacement Mike Harris – in at halfback and switched captain Will Genia into five-eighth as Lucas looked on in crutches.
“I was a little surprised that they didn’t put Harris at 10 and leave Will at nine,” Plumtree said.
“Will allowed us into the game because he was throwing a lot of skip passes and we read that.
“It was a big blow for them losing Quade and then Ben, just like in Durban really.”
The Queensland Rugby Union may be kicking themselves after aborting their appeal on a one-match ban for Cooper.
But the Reds had full faith in Lucas who inspired an upset win over the Chiefs playing at No.10 in Cooper’s absence, sparking their current six game winning run leading into the must win finals clash.
The Reds had won six of their last seven games in Brisbane against the Sharks.
And they were feeding off their remarkable home record of 21 wins in their last 23 games at Suncorp Stadium.
But the Sharks had made a habit of crashing the Reds’ party – just ask Plumtree who compared Saturday night’s win with their 1996 finals triumph.
“I am so proud of my guys, to win away at a place like this is great,” Plumtree said.
Genia conceded the Reds were all but gone after the Sharks’ stunning 17-0 lead after 23 minutes.
In a strange parallel, the Reds led the Sharks 17-0 in round four before Lucas broke down and Queensland were over-run 27-22.
Genia didn’t hide his frustration after the Reds’ title defence evaporated barely a week after they had sealed a last gasp finals berth with a bonus point win over NSW.
“We were just poor. If we lost and played well to a better side you’d could cop it a bit easier,” he said.
The Reds’ chances were also not helped by losing hooker Saia Faingaa (bicep) in the 22nd minute.
The Sharks next face the Cape Town-based Stormers while the other semi-final features two New Zealand sides – the Chiefs and the Crusaders who beat South Africa’s Bulls 28-13 earlier Saturday at Christchurch.
The Stormers and the Chiefs had byes this weekend as reward for finishing top of the table.