Brisbane - The Reds firmly put themselves into Super Rugby playoff contention after a hard fought 33-20 win over a determined Rebels outfit here on Saturday.
The build-up to the match was dominated by the showdown between the two flyhalfs, Quade Cooper and James O'Connor, with Cooper out with a point to prove as he tried to stake his claim for a place in Robbie Deans' Test squad to take on the British and Irish Lions later this month.
It was O'Connor who started off the match the brighter, converting an early penalty to put the Rebels 3-0 up and in the process help him past the 500-point mark in Super Rugby.
Cooper slotted a penalty of his own to level matters, but things quickly turned sour as Beau Robinson was sent to the sin bin after punching Scott Fuglistaller at a scrum, which led to a punch-up between several other players.
The Rebels didn't quite make their man-advantage count, instead Luke Morahan intercepted a long pass from Rory Sidey, to sprint in under the posts from halfway and were not made to pay for the earlier bust-up as Robinson returned to the field after Cooper's conversion, which put the Reds in front for the first time in the match.
Their lead was not to last long however as Rebels flank, Scott Fuglistaller charged down a clearance kick from Cooper and dived onto the bouncing ball behind the Reds' try-line, with O'Connor tying up the scores once more with the conversion.
With half-time approaching, Cooper decided to create a little magic of his own to atone for his earlier error by slotting a snap-shot from 15 metres out.
That magic too was not to last as Cooper slipped when attempting to clear the Reds line, allowing his effort bounces off Nuc Henderson into Sidey's hands, with the centre coasting for an easy try on the stroke of half-time. O'Connor made sure of the conversion once more to give the Rebels a 17-13 half-time lead.
Four minutes into the second half, O'Connor punished the Reds from the kicking tee again after Australian referee James Leckie blew up Ben Lucas for not rolling away from the tackle.
But that was where the scoring ended for the Rebels as half-back pairing of Will Genia and Cooper started to pull the strings to get the backline going, but eventually the try came from a drive from a line-out inside the Rebels' 22, with Jake Schatz emerging from the mass of bodies to score the Reds' second try of the match. Cooper failed to convert, leaving the Rebels with a slim lead heading into the final 20 minutes.
Cooper finally found success with the boot again as he put a penalty through the posts to put the Reds back into the lead and quickly followed it up with a try of his own, uncharacteristically by picking and driving from the back of the ruck. Mike Harris, on after replacing Anthony Faingaa, took over the kicking duties from Cooper and converted his first effort from the touchline to extend the Reds' lead to 8 points.
Ben Lucas made sure the Reds walked away with the full complement of log points, scoring the Reds' fourth try in the final minutes of the match. Harris missed the conversion, but it didn't play a significant role in the final result as the Reds walked away 33-20 victors, which has allowed them to leapfrog the Cheetahs and the Crusaders into fourth spot on the overall standings.
The result also closed the gap to the conference leading Brumbies to just four points, with the Reds still to receive their second bye, leaving the Brumbies to battle it out with the Rebels next week.Scores:
Luke Morahan, Jake Schatz, Quade Cooper, Ben Lucas; Conversions:
Cooper, Mike Harris; Penalties:
Cooper (2); Drop goal:
Scott Fuglistaller, Rory Sidey; Conversions:
James O'Connor (2); Penalties:
15. Ben Lucas, 14. Rod Davies, 13. Ben Tapuai, 12.
Anthony Faingaa, 11. Luke Morahan, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8.
Jake Schatz, 7. Beau Robinson, 6. Ed Quirk, 5. James Horwill (captain),
4. Rob Simmons, 3. James Slipper, 2. James Hanson, 1. Greg Holmes
16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Ben Daley, 18. Ed O'Donoghue, 19. Radike Samo,
20. Liam Gill, 21. Nicholas Frisby, 22. Mike HarrisRebels:
Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11
Lachlan Mitchell, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham
(captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh
Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson
16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Cadeyrn Neville, 19 Gareth Delve,
20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Bryce Hegarty, 22 Kimami Sitauti