REDS 11-6 REBELS
Queensland edge past visitors in tight encounter
The Reds had just enough to see off a courageous Melbourne Rebels at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday thanks to a second-half penalty and try from Dom Shipperly to secure a dogged 11-6 win.
The visitors had held the lead in Brisbane for almost an hour before the Reds winger's 56th minute intervention in the right-hand corner provided the game's crucial score to move the 2011 Super Rugby champions to the top of this season's standings.
The hosts started like they'd been let off a leash down the beach as the Rebels' first two clearing kicks were tenaciously charged down.
This early pressure on the opposition was built upon a stern defence epitomised by some crunching first-up tackles - the biggest of which being an almighty double hit from Jake Schatz and Scott Higginbotham that rocked Rebels openside Tom Chamberlain.
The visiting XV were not to be intimidated however and a huge Rebels scrum soon after won the ball against the head and some much needed possession - with the plaudits going to tight-head Laurie Weeks for a tremendous effort in the front row.
Soon after, the away side were ahead. Despite a Liam Gill turnover the Reds were penalised at a ruck and from 42 metres out, centre James O'Connor directed the ball between the sticks to open the scoring.
Within minutes, Reds fly-half Mike Harris had the opportunity to level the scores after prop Weeks was pinged for holding on, but the Kiwi playmaker astounded the crowd by missing his first ever shot at goal in Super Rugby; besmirching a previously perfect goal-kicking record.
The Rebels had ground their way into the game by denying the Reds the time to make any effective attacking play whilst enjoying 70% possession themselves. A great break by Hugh Pyle just after the 20 minute mark saw the impressive second-row charge powerfully into enemy territory, handing off would-by tacklers Hanson and Harris, but as he tried to ship the ball onto his speedsters the ball was lost forward in contact in the Reds' 22.
The Reds rhythm was well and truly disrupted and with no sustained ball or phase-play they were finding it hard to impose themselves on the fixture.
A series of quick-fire penalties around the half-hour mark helped the Rebels to gain yardage upfield, with the final infringement resulting in O'Connor's second successful penalty kick of the night and a 6-0 lead.
With an agitated crowd beginning to get on their backs, Horwill, Genia and co. upped the tempo of their game in the final few moments before the break and after a foul by the already-tiring Weeks at scrum-time, Harris had a second chance to opening his night's account from the tee - which he duly converted.
Harris (l) and Cipriani (r) both experienced an indifferent evening in a scrappy and ultimately forgettable fixture
Ex-Western Force utility back O'Connor had an early opportunity to stretch the Rebels' advantage back to six points in the 45th minute, but the Wallaby playmaker - possibly put off by his fluorescent yellow boots - could not hit the target.
The Reds were desperate for a bit of spark throughout the side and especially in the back division - and just after the 50 minute mark a triple substitution bringing on Van Humphries, Beau Robinson and the lively Ben Lucas sought to inject fresh impetus into the hosts' efforts.
There was an almost immediate response as Reds forwards marched the ball up-field, dragging in defenders and opening space on the pitch up. Quick ball from the ruck released full-back Luke Morahan who dived over in the corner - but video replays showed that opposition 15 Kurtley Beale had done just enough to bundle the 7's expert into touch.
A minute later they were not to be denied.
A wonderful line-out steal from captain James Horwill on the Rebels own 5-metre line set up a great attacking platform for the Reds and scrum-half Genia unleashed the outside backs with a fizzing, precise pass - the ball moved quickly through the hands and right winger Dom Shipperly was on hand to continue a great try-scoring start to the season out wide.
Harris's iffy night with the boot continued with a pulled conversion attempt, but the team and fans alike had visibly settled after the score and taking the slim 8-6 lead.It was now a completely different Reds team heading into the last 20 minutes of the game - playing with great speed, guile and a desire to entertain with their trademark brand of explosive running rugby.
The stats had also been turned on their head and now showed the home side to have enjoyed 75% of second-half ball; with stand-off Harris's second penalty of the night justly extending their lead.
The Rebels were by no means dead and buried however and an opportunistic breakaway from Beale almost resulted in exploiting a threadbare Reds defence to score but an unfortunate knock-on killed the move.
With time running out though and the Rebels winning a penalty in an eminently-kickable position, the men from Melbourne signed their own death-warrant.
As the stadium timer had decided to clock off early it was down to referee Ian Smith to inform the teams of how long was left - stand-in captain for the visitors, Gareth Delve, was told three minutes.
O'Connor, with ball in hand, thought little of the Welshman's offer to go for goal to get back within two points and then get back down the field after the re-start - the young Wallaby instead opting to go all-out with a kick to touch.
It was a commendably brave call, but, as the ball sailed through the grasp of lock Luke Jones at the resultant line-out and was cleared away downfield, it was ultimately a foolish one.
A final Harris shot at the sticks looked to wrap the game up, but the effort fell short of the uprights. With the game still live, Rebels backs spun it wide to try and catch the Reds defence off-guards but the looping ball evaded wing Cooper Vuna and dropped agonisingly into touch.
The Reds celebrate a third fortuitous victory in three weeks; the Rebels, yet again, are left with the tag of unlucky losers.
STAR MAN: WILL GENIA (REDS) - So often the catalyst for a successful Reds side, the scrum-half takes the right option more often than not, has a crisp and accurate pass and possesses a tactical kicking game that most first-fives would die for.
5-METRE FLOP: LAURIE WEEKS (REBELS) - The former Red tight-head started brightly but was soon under intense pressure at scrum-time that he found hard to handle. A number of open-field penalties also hindered his performance and the industrious prop was unfortunately replaced soon after the interval.
All images courtesy of www.couriermail.com.au
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