Brisbane - Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper took
17 minutes to stamp his mark on the game, and showed glimpses of his
mercurial ability, as the Reds beat the bottom-placed Lions
34-20 in their Super Rugby clash at Lang Park on Saturday.
Cooper linked well with scrumhalf Will Genia, who was superb for the
Reds as he scored one try and set up another, while Mike Harris slotted
14 points for the Reds, who closed the gap on the Brumbies
in the Australian conference.
The Brumbies, who beat the
Hurricanes 37-25 on Friday are on 44 points, while the Reds are on 36
and still within sight of the top-six playoffs. The Reds and Brumbies
clash next week in Canberra.
"Not happy with the whole 80
minutes, happy with parts of it, but we had a job to do. We got it done
so now we go on to meet the Brumbies," Reds captain James Horwill said.
"Quade showed some Quade-esque moments, so that's good for us. He
pulled up okay and looks good so that's only positive for him."
Cooper had trotted on to Lang Park behind his team with a noticable limp.
The strapping on his right leg emphasised the fact he was playing his
first match in seven months since he destroyed the anterior cruciate
ligament in his right knee during the rugby World Cup last October.
The 24-year-old appeared tentative in the opening exchanges, as did the
Reds, with the Lions making most of the play and being rewarded with
two penalties to Elton Jantjies.
Cooper finally got himself in
the game in the 18th minute when he spotted a slight gap between two
forwards and while his sidestep was less exaggerated than it was
pre-injury, he accelerated through the gap and found his runner inside
to set up an attacking ruck.
He then handled at least three
other times as the Reds hammered away at the line before openside
flank Liam Gill crashed over and with Mike Harris converting, the Reds
took the lead they never relinquished.
Harris added two
penalties in the first half to give the Reds a 13-6 lead which they
built on without Cooper after the break. Cooper had not expected to play
the full match.
The Reds forwards continued to lay the platform
with hooker Saia Faingaa crashing over early in the second half, while
Genia was given quality possession and time to unleash players outside
Genia linked with replacement Chris Feauai-Sautia to set up
the teenage centre for his first Super Rugby try, about 90 seconds into
his debut, then sprinted 60-metres for a brillant individual try to
give the Reds their bonus point.
Lions' replacement forwards
Martin Bezuidenhout and Jaco Kriel scored consolation tries, both of
which Jantjies converted, but they were unable to reduce the gap any
Reds: 15. Ben Lucas, 14. Dom Shipperley, 13. Anthony Faingaa, 12. Mike Harris, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 7. Liam Gill, 6. Jake Schatz, 5. James Horwill (captain), 4. Rob Simmons, 3. James Slipper, 2. Saia Faingaa, 1. Greg Holmes
Substitutes: 16. James Hanson, 17. Ben Daley, 18. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19. Ed Quirk, 20. Nicholas Frisby, 21. Chris Feauai-Sautia, 22. Luke Morahan
MTN Lions: 15. Andries Coetzee, 14. Deon van Rensburg, 13. Lionel Mapoe, 12. Jaco Taute, 11. Michael Killian, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Ross Cronje, 8. Joshua Strauss (captain), 7. Grant Hattingh, 6. Derick Minnie, 5. Ruan Botha, 4. Franco van der Merwe, 3. Pat Cilliers, 2. Callie Visagie, 1. JC Janse van Rensburg
Substitutes: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. CJ van der Linde, 18. Cobus Grobbelaar, 19. Jaco Kriel, 20. Tian Meyer, 21. Ruan Combrinck, 22. James Kamana