The Melbourne Rebels have returned to winning ways with a decisive bonus point victory over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.
In a game highlighted by the return of Will Genia and Quade Cooper to Suncorp Stadium, it was the astute kicking game and suffocating defence of the Melburnians that saw the men in blue climb to the top of the Australian Conference after 7 Rounds of Super Rugby.
Returning to the ground where he made a name for himself, Quade Cooper dispatched any possible nerves when he opened the scoring in just the 3rd minute through a penalty goal. Not to be outdone, Bryce Hegarty responded with three points of his own when the Rebels gave away a breakdown penalty from the ensuing restart.
In slippery conditions, playing for territory was a priority for both sides. When Scott Higginbotham was stripped of possession by Quade Cooper coming off the back of a scrum, the Rebels had a chance to pressure the Reds line.
Cooper almost made the hosts pay immediately when fancy footwork saw him beat a man on his way to the tryline, only to be stripped of the ball over the chalk by Reds halfback Tate McDermott.
Multiple lineout steals by the Melburnians only increased the pressure on the Reds and under relentless pressure, the hosts could only infringe to negate the flat and fast Rebels attack.
Another Cooper penalty was cancelled out by a response from Hegarty and the scores looked destined to remain locked at 6-6 heading into halftime. With time almost expired, the Rebels were afforded one last chance to split the difference with a 10-metre attacking lineout. After multiple phases, a cross-field kick from Cooper found an isolated Hamish Stewart on the right edge.
The vulnerable Reds fullback was severely mismatched with the looming Jack Maddocks, and the Rebels wing soared highest for the catch and his 7th try of the season. Stewart again would be targeted in the second half when a clever Genia box kick isolated the fullback in the backfield and Marika Koroibete bundled him into touch.
With territory established, Genia was happy to allow the forwards to maintain possession at the back of the maul and through a patient build up, Anaru Rangi was able to crash over in just the second minute of the new half.
As Brad Thorn looked to his bench to arrest the momentum, a rapid defensive line speed from the Rebels was forcing plenty of errors from an increasingly frustrated Reds outfit. When a Sefa Naivalu pass went to deck, Cooper was able to toe ahead for a supporting Jack Maddocks, who won the race to the line for his second score of the match.
With the Rebels up 25-6, it was critical the Reds were next to score to stay in the contest.
Tate McDermott’s show-and-go at the base of a ruck saw the Rebels line breached for the first time all night and Samu Kerevi was in support to advance the ball towards the Rebels line.
When Brandon Paenga-Amosa was adjudged to have knocked on in the lead up to a Reds try moments later, the Reds fight back looked to have been extinguished. With a comfortable lead up their sleeve, the Rebels looked content to slow the game down through tactical kicking that utilised the greasy conditions perfectly.
A late effort to Taniela Tupou in the 75th minute was a rare lapse in an otherwise faultless Rebels defensive effort.
Quade Cooper would have the last laugh though when replacement Rob Leota crashed over in the 80th minute for the bonus point try, allowing the flyhalf to add 2 more points to the score in the final play of the match.
REBELS - 32 Tries: Maddocks (2), Rangi, Leota Conversions: Cooper (2) Penalties: Cooper (2)
REDS - 13 Tries: Tupou Conversions: Hegarty Penalties: Hegarty (2)