Super Rugby


Five things we learned - National Rugby Championship semi-finals

Bond University Queensland Country booked their place in the National Rugby Championship grand final with a 57-21 win over Fijian Drua in their semi-final at Clive Berghofer Stadium in Toowoomba on Sunday afternoon.

From a last-place finish in 2016 to grand finalists a year later, Queensland Country will now head down to Canberra this Saturday face the Vikings for their first shot at an NRC title.

These are the ‘five things we learned’ from the semi-final weekend:

1. Tongan Thor thunders in Toowoomba

Rarely has a prop stood out as visibly as Taniela Tupou did on Sunday afternoon in Toowoomba. The tighthead broke the game open in the sixth minute with a slicing run and a no-look pass to put Caleb Timu over for the first try. Tupou has always had a reputation for his rampaging running but there are now subtleties to his game. Outside of his improved scrummaging, the 21-year-old can step off both feet and deliver deft passes. His stats from Sunday’s match would be impressive numbers for an outside centre, let alone a 135-kilogram prop – 17 runs, 10 tackle busts, four line breaks, one try assist and two tries.

2. Country’s captain grows in stature

Duncan Paia’aua returned at inside centre after two weeks in Wallabies camp. Without him, Country’s six-game streak was brought to an end and his influence as a linchpin in the backline was evident on Sunday. He looks increasingly comfortable as a playmaker and Country’s expansive game plan blossoms with Paia’aua at 12. The Rockhampton product, crossed for two tries including one individual effort to upstage his opposite number and his leadership should not be understated. Country seem to respond to Paia’aua’s ‘lead by action attitude’ and their nine-try-to-three effort was ruthless from the get go.

3. The job is not done for Thorn and Carozza

Brad Thorn and his assistant Paul Carozza have turned a one-win 2016 season into a grand final finish. The core group of Country’s squad has toiled away for the last few seasons but have had limited success until now. Under Thorn and Carozza, Country have clearly developed self-belief and their willingness to fight for each other is their most inspiring asset. In Round 1, Country were pipped by the Vikings in Canberra but they’ve come a long way since that September 2nd fixture. James Slipper went off after being struck in the eye on Sunday and Thorn will eagerly await results from his scans because his experience will be invaluable in a pressured grand final environment.

4. Young engine room motors Country home

All the plaudits from Sunday’s nine-try win went to Taniela Tupou but it would be remiss to not mention the rest of Country’s forward pack. Their two teenage second rowers – Harry Hockings and Angus Blyth – have been outstanding and Tupou’s first charge to the try line would not have happened without Hockings’ sleight of hand. The 19-year-old plucked the lineout ball and then discreetly gifted it Tupou to set up one of Country’s two set-piece tries. Caleb Timu dotted down for the other, on the back of a dominant five-metre scrum shove. Timu, Angus Scott-Young and Liam Wright’s backrow combination grew throughout the season and Wright was rewarded with an invitation to join the Wallabies on the spring tour. Credit must also be given to Alex Mafi who’s bullocking run set up Tupou’s second-half try.

5. Country will embrace this weekend’s challenge

Country’s passage to this weekend’s grand final in Canberra has not been smooth sailing. Thorn encourages his charges to take the hard road to any success. They’ve embraced their pre-season underdog tag and have attempted to prove their detractors wrong throughout the road to the finals. Win-or-lose this Saturday night, Country’s spirited charge from cellar dwellers to grand finalists is just the tonic for St.George Queensland Reds’ fans looking forward to the 2018 Super Rugby season. Thorn has found a way to get the best out of his young crop of up-and-coming Reds and they’ll carry significant momentum into the Reds’ pre-season which kicks off at Ballymore at the end of this month.

Saturday’s grand final kicks off at Viking Park in Canberra at 6:30pm AEST and can be viewed LIVE on FOX Sports television.