Reformed Reds rebel stars in Melbourne mauling
LIFE after Samu Kerevi looks a whole lot brighter for the Queensland Reds now Wallaby James O'Connor has made an eye-catching return in Gladstone.
O'Connor's calming influence, timing, ball-play and sharp stepping were a feature of the landslide 57-5 trial win over the Melbourne Rebels on Friday afternoon.
His first game for the Reds in five years was just two minutes old when he bumped out of a tackle from inside centre.
The 52-Test utility had the poise to steady before a pass got pacy winger Filipo Daugunu rolling for the first of his five tries.
O'Connor played the first 40 minutes at inside centre, his likely home for the season, but a 20-minute cameo at No.10 revealed the Reds back-up plans for young starter Isaac Lucas.
A slick right-foot step from O'Connor straightened the attack late in the first half so fullback Bryce Hegarty could stroll over off a short ball.
O'Connor's all-round package of skills is a radical shift from Kerevi's steamroller style which is now making metres for his new Suntory club in Japan.
The Reds galloped to a 35-0 half-time lead but don't read too much into it because this was a mismatch against the rawest of Rebels line-ups.
The Reds ran on a cohesive team with five Wallabies and 10 Super Rugby staples against a Rebels side of fringe players without a regular 2019 starter and it showed.
The one Rebels player to excel was busy flanker Matt Gicquel, a 2018 club premiership winner with GPS in Brisbane after playing his early rugby with the Maleny Bushrangers.
He made several good runs, ankle-tapped Lucas to stall a 25m dash and charged over for the Rebels' solitary score to press for more exposure.
There were plenty of positives for the Reds, who will get a true test against the NSW Waratahs in their final Super Rugby trial in Dalby on Friday night.
Young No.8 Harry Wilson made regular metres in contact.
Lucas' footwork was sharp but the jury is still out on how he can manage games with the boot after one of his few kicks was charged down.
Halfback Tate McDermott made one trademark dash which finished with a flick-pass flourish for a Daugunu try.
The Reds started strong-running Hunter Paisami at outside centre while young prop Dane Zander was part of the first half scrum which bulldozed the Rebels.
REDS 57 (F Daugunu 5, B Hegarty, B Paenga-Amosa, A Mafi, M Sorovi tries; B Hegarty 6 con) bt REBELS 5 (M Gicquel try)