Brisbane - Defending champions Queensland Reds remain unbeaten after three Super 15 games but were taken all the way in their 11-6 victory over a gutsy Melbourne Rebels in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Reds scored the only try of a fierce Australian derby through right-winger Dominic Shipperley in the 54th minute after the Rebels took a 6-3 lead at half-time.
The Rebels, wooden spooners in their inaugural season last year, ripped into the Reds and smothered Queensland's attack for long periods, but did not have the cutting edge to earn more than two James O'Connor penalty goals.
Queensland stepped up the tempo in the second half and were rewarded when Shipperley latched on to a long pass from Wallaby scrum-half Will Genia to score what proved the decisive try in the corner.
The win took the Reds to the top of the Australian Conference but on level points with the ACT Brumbies, who beat the Central Cheetahs 24-23 in the final minute in Canberra earlier Saturday.
The Reds were scheduled to leave early Sunday for South Africa for two matches, starting with the Coastal Sharks in Durban next Saturday.
"We didn't hold on to the ball in the first half, but when we held on it in the second half and played more rugby we looked a bit better and blew a couple of opportunities," Reds' skipper James Horwill said.
"In the end you've just got to keep winning and we've won three from three now and that's a good start to the year and we head to South Africa for two tough games over there."
It was a much improved performance from Melbourne after being well beaten by the NSW Waratahs 35-19 last week.
"It shows we've come a long way and we're really disappointed with that," the Rebels' Welsh skipper Gareth Delve said.
"To push the champions on their home ground in front of a great crowd that close and still be disappointed shows that we're going in the right direction."
Wallaby fullback Kurtley Beale made his first appearance for the Rebels since switching from the Waratahs and impressed with his solid defence, while English fly-half Danny Cipriani was subbed midway through the second half, allowing O'Connor to move into number ten.
Fly-half Mike Harris had less impact for the Reds than his haul of 25 points in the previous week's win over Western Force and finished with just two penalties in his five attempts at goal.
The Rebels now have two home matches, beginning with the Cheetahs next weekend.
Try: Dom Shipperley. Penalties: Mike Harris (2)
Penalties: James O` Connor (2)