James O’Connor won’t bear the burden of blame on his own for Queensland’s deflating 21-14 Super Rugby loss to the Sharks on Friday.
While it was O’Connor’s late howler that ultimately cost them, it was just one of a litany of errors on the night that held the Reds back from snatching a win that was well and truly there for the taking, according to coach Richard Graham.
O’Connor looked ready for the ground to swallow him up after his miscued 69th-minute kick from behind his own tryline which should have relieved pressure on Queensland – but instead handed Sharks halfback Stefan Ungerer his second try on a silver platter.
Ungerer showed quick reflexes to catch O’Connor’s horrendously-screwed punt at chest height, barely three strides from the tryline, touching down unopposed to extend the Durban-based outfit’s lead to an unassailable seven points.
Until that moment, the Reds had all the momentum despite trailing 16-14 and looked good value to post back-to-back wins for the first time this year.
Graham said O’Connor would bounce back from his match-turning blunder, which allowed the Sharks to snap a six-game losing streak.
“It’s hard to point the finger at one person,” he said.
“After that, I thought even our effort to try and salvage something out of it was excellent.
“But that’s an individual error, if you look across the game there was plenty of those.”
Indeed there were.
In all, the mistake-riddled Reds turned the ball over 21 times.
They also made nine linebreaks to the Sharks’ three, had the overwhelming majority of possession but still found a way to lose.
The root cause was a lack of cohesion at the breakdown and a failure to seize attacking opportunities when they came.
All that just seven days after Queensland seemingly turned their season around with a thumping win over the Melbourne Rebels.
“It’s almost like the efforts from last week were compromised, negated by not getting the result and not backing that up,” Graham said.
“We probably stood back and watched the game a little bit tonight.”
Captain James Slipper said the team would “rally around” O’Connor, who has battled injury through an inconsistent debut season with Queensland but has occasionally showed flashes of match-winning brilliance.
“It’s a team sport,” Slipper said.
“You never like seeing individuals take a blow like that.
“It’s obviously not what we wanted but we’re going to have to rally around him.”