BRISBANE // Queensland Reds had a pair of hookers to thank after coming from behind to grind out a 21-20 victory over Western Force in their Super 15 opener at a sweltering Lang Park.
The Reds blew away the Force 50-10 in the corresponding fixture in the southern hemisphere's annual provincial championship last year but this time needed tries from Saia Faingaa and his replacement James Hanson to inch over the line.
James O'Connor, handed the No 10 jersey by Richard Graham, the new Force coach, kicked five penalties and raced 95 metres for a runaway try to overshadow his opposite number, Wallaby fly-half Quade Cooper.
Cooper, however, came up with the goods when he needed to, kicking three penalties and converting Hanson's 75th-minute try to give the Reds a slender lead which they never relinquished.
"Happy with the result but plenty to work on," James Horwill, the Reds captain returning after a year out injured, said in a pitchside interview.
"Full credit to the Force, they are going to go a long way in this competition and they're going to surprise a lot of teams."
A dull first-half was essentially reduced to a kicking duel between Cooper and O'Connor with the Force fly-half coming out on top to give his side a 12-6 half-time lead.
That the much-vaunted Reds attack had a quiet evening certainly had something to do with soaring temperatures and high humidity but also to the David Pocock-inspired Force defence.
Pocock, the openside flanker, and his back row colleagues tackled and harried the Reds attackers to a standstill, repeatedly sending runners back across the gain line.
O'Connor had extended the lead to 15-9 when the Force were caught by a sucker punch in the 63rd minute, Faingaa taking the ball straight back from a line-out and racing up the line to score in the corner, firing up his team and the crowd.
Perth-based Force were on the ropes even more when Matt Hodgson was sin-binned after 67 minutes but a minute later O'Connor pounced on a Reds error to hack the ball out of defence and race the length of the field to give the visitors a 20-14 lead.
Crucially, O'Connor missed the conversion, and when Hanson emerged with the ball after the Reds had driven over the line five minutes from time, Cooper stepped up to seal the contest.
"We are bitterly disappointed but credit to the Reds, they ground it out," said the 20-year-old O'Connor. "For us, we stuck to structure but a few little things got us undone, it's not good enough."