Reds power into top six
A try five minutes from time by replacement Nick Frisby clinched the Reds the bonus point in a 32-17 Vodacom Super Rugby win over the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday that enables them to keep the heat on the Brumbies in the battle for Australian conference honours.
The bonus point enabled the Reds to draw level with the Brumbies at the top of the conference, however the Brumbies will be playing the Western Force in Perth later in the weekend and will be expected to regain their advantage. As well as drawing level in pole position on the Aussie conference standings, the champions are now also into the top six, which means they could qualify for the playoffs even if they don’t win the conference.
In fact the battle for top six spots is starting to look intriguing, with four teams now locked together on 49 log points, including the Bulls and the Sharks, with the last mentioned picking up their four points for the bye.
The Reds will be hoping the Force can lift themselves in Nathan Sharpe’s farewell game so that they can go into the final fortnight of league matches level-pegging with the team from Canberra, but the ease of the Reds win in Melbourne was not a good omen for teams playing to give long-serving stalwarts a fitting farewell.
The build-up to the Rebels game was overshadowed by the emotion of Stirling Mortlock’s final game at home as he brings the curtain down on a career which started at the Brumbies as long ago as 1998. In the first quarter hour it looked like the Rebels might get the result they were looking for, as they camped in Reds territory.
They were held up only just short in the 12th minute, but managed to force a penalty that James O’Connor slotted to take his team into a 3-0 lead. It was though the last time they led in the game, as the Reds struck back just two minutes later as quick ball found enough space for the speedy young wing Chris Feauai-Sautia to race over in the corner.
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Mike Harris added a conversion and then a 20th minute penalty to make it 10-3, and suddenly after the Reds had been forced to do so much defending it was they who were in the ascendancy. And it remained that way, with the Brisbane team starting to look like the champion team from last year during the remainder of the half.
The try of the match was scored in the 26th minute, an excellent Harris chip being picked up by the centre and then the Reds exploiting the disorganisation in the Rebels’ backline defence, with the ball going wide to Feauai-Sautia before he transferred inside to Dom Shipperly, who was instrumental in creating the opportunity earlier in the movement. Shipperly reached out to dot down in the left corner and Harris’s conversion made it 17-3.
Quade Cooper created the third try by drawing the defenders in near the Rebels posts before sending out a pass that found lock Adam Wallace-Harrison unmarked to make it 24-3 at halftime.
The Reds were so dominant at that stage that even though the Rebels stormed back to challenge their line for a long time before the break, the bonus point try looked a mere formality. It didn’t turn out that way, with the Rebels enjoying a dominant first half hour of the second half.
The Rebels camped for long periods in the Reds 22 metre area only for bad luck and desperate defence to deny them, but eventually a long build-up, in which Mitch Inman did well to keep the ball in the field of play when he looked destined to go out, eventually saw the irrepressible Kurtley Beale wrong foot a clutch of tired defenders and go through near the posts.
That was after 56 minutes and it took the Rebels 11 more minutes to breach the Reds defences again, Inman, this time with great hands, playing a role again as Lachlan Mitchell went in at the corner. The conversion made it 27-17 and with a 10 point difference and 13 minutes to go, the Rebels might have felt they were back in it.
But there is truth in that old saying that when the going gets tough the tough get going, and the Reds showed their championship qualities by ending their walkabout by taking control of possession for almost 30 phases before the movement was finally halted. No matter, for from the resultant scrum it was Frisby who was able to go over near the corner flag to bag the all-important fifth log point.
Melbourne Rebels – Tries: Kurtley Beale, Lachlan Mitchell. Conversions: Julian Huxley, Beale. Penalty: James O` Connor.
Reds – Tries: Chris Feauai-Sautia, Dom Shipperley, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Nicholas Frisby. Conversions: Mike Harris (3). Penalties: Harris (2).