Reds keep title hopes alive
Adam Wallace-Harrison (File)
Melbourne - The Reds kept their Super Rugby title defence very much alive with an ultimately comfortable 32-17 bonus-point victory against the Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
Teenager Chris Feauai-Sautia, a late replacement for the sick Digby Ioane, scored the first try and his fellow winger Dom Shipperley, lock Adam Wallace-Harrison and replacement back Nick Frisby also crossed for the Super Rugby champions.
In their first match after the international window, the Reds tired in the second half as the many Wallabies in their ranks began to feel the lingering effects of the hard-fought series win over Wales.
The always game Rebels, hoping to give former Wallabies centre Stirling Mortlock a win in his final home match, hit back in the second half with tries from Kurtley Beale and Lachie Mitchell but never closed to within 10 points of the Reds.
To make matters worse, they lost flyhalf James O'Connor to a hamstring injury in his first match back after recovering from a liver injury which had kept him sidelined for a month.
"The game didn't go to plan, the big send off," Rebels captain Gareth Delve said in a pitchside interview.
"But we showed great character in the second half. In the first half we made too many mistakes and left ourselves with a mountain to climb."
Another Wallabies flyhalf, Quade Cooper, was replaced at halftime by the Reds after setting up Wallace-Harrison's try five minutes before the break.
It was a moment of magic from the least lauded of the playmakers on the field, however, which set up the best try of the night after 26 minutes.
Centre Mike Harris made the most of his pack winning a scrum against the head by chipping over the defensive line and regathering his own kick.
The Reds moved the ball quickly outside to Feauai-Sautia, who looked like he might score a brace on his first start but he was forced to look for support and his pass back inside found Shipperley who crossed in the corner.
Trailing 27-3 at the break, the Rebels laid siege to the Reds' line in the second half and got their reward when fullback Beale snaked over the line in the 56th minute and Mitchell finished well nine minutes later.
The Reds refused to let the Rebels eat further into their lead, however, and went back down the pitch through 20 or more phases before a flat pass from peerless scrumhalf Will Genia put Frisby in to score in the corner six minutes from time.
"We dropped a little bit in that second half which is disappointing but we got that fourth try and that's very important for the competition," said skipper Genia, whose side now return home for matches against the Highlanders and Waratahs in their last two regular season fixtures.
In next weekend's Round 17 action, the Reds host the Highlanders in Brisbane, while the Rebels travel to Johannesburg to face the Lions.
15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Stirling Mortlock (captain), 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Hugh Perrett, 6 Tom Chamberlain, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Nic Henderson
Substitutes: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Lachie Mitchell, 22 Julian Huxley.
15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (captain), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes
Substitutes: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Radike Samo, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Blake Enever, 22 Nick Frisby