Super Rugby Trans-Tasman R3: Reds win, but one victory doesn't make a competition

Australia is on the board! After 13 straight defeats, the Reds at last opened the Aussies account in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, the Queenslanders defeating the Chiefs in an extraordinary game at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.

But it was otherwise another dominant weekend for New Zealand as the Hurricanes, Crusaders, Blues and Highlanders all claimed comfortable wins in Round 3.

Read on as we review some of the big talking points from the weekend's action.

REDS GET THE WIN, BUT ONE VICTORY DOESN'T MAKE A COMPETITION

Rugby administrators will have breathed a collective sigh of relief when Chiefs centre Anton Lienert-Brown fumbled the ball in the 80th minute of Saturday night's game against the Reds, thus ending the visitors' sensational comeback and any chance of victory.

As the debate around exactly what should be the tournament[s] structure for 2022 and beyond continues, the Reds' 40-34 victory halted New Zealand's streak at 13 games and the narrative that has dogged Australia's franchises over the past three weeks.

Thankfully there will be no repeat of the 40-0 run New Zealand's team built across 2017-18, a run that was coincidentally ended in a match where a red card had been handed out, albeit under the old law when players could not be replaced 20 minutes later. But more on that later.

With the inescapable "winless season" headline now banished, it's up to the Australian franchises to add further credibility to the competition over the closing two weeks. The Reds appear to have the best hope of doing so, but a repeat of their poor second half from Townsville won't cut it against the in-form Blues on Friday.

Having been put to the sword by the Hurricanes, the Force face a tough finish to the season with games against the Crusaders and Blues, both in New Zealand to come. While the men from Perth are capable of grinding away at home, they simply do not have the attacking firepower to trouble New Zealand franchises on the road.

The Rebels were better on Sunday but were still easily beaten by the Highlanders after their match was switched from Queenstown to Leichhardt Oval in Sydney.

After three weeks on the road, the Brumbies at last will enjoy the comforts of home, for games against the Hurricanes and Highlanders, and no side needs it more. Including the Super Rugby AU final against the Reds, the Brumbies have been away from home for nearly a month.

That leaves just the Waratahs, who are improving but still without a win in 2021, who face the Highlanders away this week before a final round home game against the Chiefs.

Looking at the final two weeks of action, can you honestly see a situation where Australia, at best, adds a further three wins? And the question then should be posed: Is four wins from 25 games enough for Rugby Australia to commit itself and the country's five teams to a complete home-and-away Trans-Tasman competition next year?

You get the feeling RA administrators are cooling on the idea with every week that goes by, although for the past two weeks the television ratings - thought to be a key factor in RA's thinkings -- on Nine Gem have been akin to those from the Super Rugby AU season.

On the other hand, does Rugby Australia need to take a longer term view? That was certainly the suggestion from Crusaders coach Scott Robertson after his side had put away the Waratahs 54-28.

"You need to compete, you have to compete and if you stop competing you get left behind," Robertson said.

"It might seem pretty brutal at the moment but in the long run it's going to be best for Australian rugby, that's my belief."

Right now, there's no hiding from the fact that one win doesn't make a competition.

SORRY, CHEIK, THAT WAS A STRAIGHT RED EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK

Queensland made an excellent start to their 40-34 win over the Chiefs, charging out of the gates with a five-try first half to build a healthy lead they would eventually need absolutely every bit of.

And the task was made infinitely easier by the fact the Chiefs were at one point reduced to 13 men, when Damian McKenzie was marched for a dangerous tackle following an earlier yellow card for Chase Tiatia.

Despite the unfortunate reaction of Chiefs captain Brad Weber to referee Nic Berry's call, there was absolutely no doubt that the Australian had made the right decision. That was unless you were Stan Sport panelist and former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who took umbrage with Berry's decision.

"No I don't like it at all, the force is not brought by McKenzie, the force is brought by the ball-carrier running; Tate McDermott's not even hurt, he gets straight back up," Cheika said during Stan's halftime panel.

"If there's a swinging arm or a raise from the hips down to come up and make the tackle and the shoulder slides in, then yes. But McDermott is doing a great job, he's right up at the line...for that play to work you've got to go deep into the line and we often say, if you get tackled that means the play's going to work.

"Now yes, high, perhaps even a yellow card maybe if you want to do it. But I don't think the force was created by the tackler, it was created by the ball-runner, and I don't like this "by the regulation" [officiating]."

But it's "by the regulation" officiating where we will get consistency in decision-making which has so far been sadly lacking across much of the Trans-Tasman series.

McKenzie is by no means a malicious player, but this was a tackle that he got badly wrong. He was in a poor position to make the tackle while it shouldn't be, as Cheika says, necessary for the ball-carrier to bear the responsibility of the collision.

McKenzie's tackle made contact with McDermott's head, it was with force and there were no mitigating factors that could have reduced the tackle from a red to a yellow card. Referee Berry got it spot on.

BLUES, HURRICANES IN BOX SEAT BUT ROUND 4 LOOMS AS THE DEFINING WEEKEND

With three bonus-point victories from three games, the Hurricanes and Blues sit atop the Trans-Tasman standings and are in pole position to contest the final on June 19.

The Crusaders and Highlanders also remain in the hunt, but one and two points behind respectively, the Highlanders seeing their final hopes take a hit on Sunday when Marika Koroibete crossed for the second of his tries with just three minutes to play; the Crusaders missed the bonus point in their opening win over the Brumbies.

After Saturday night's loss to the Reds, the Chiefs' season, barring a huge change in script of this competition, is over.

And so Round 4 looms as the definitive set of fixtures as the Blues and Hurricanes face their toughest challenges to date, with both sides headed across the Tasman for games against the Reds and Brumbies respectively.

Buoyed by the win over the Chiefs, the Reds will be confident they can knock off the Blues while the Brumbies should also mount a far sterner test for the Hurricanes back at home in a chilly Canberra.

If both teams were to lose, which seems unlikely, the competition would suddenly turn in the favour of the Crusaders and Highlanders, though perhaps a more likely scenario is that the Blues and Hurricanes both struggle to pick up the attacking bonus point away from home.

That would still see things in the Blues' favour who have a +102 points differential, 27 and 39 points better than the Hurricanes and Crusaders respectively, the latter whom do however have a wonderful opportunity to boost their tally at home to the Force on Friday.

It's why all eyes will be on Suncorp Stadium and GIO Stadium on Friday and Saturday this weekend, New Zealand rugby fans having just as much reason to watch as those optimistic Aussies hope the Reds' drought-breaker doesn't sit alone in the Australian win column.