Quade Cooper sparks Reds past Rebels
June 1, 2013
James Horwill celebrates Jake Schatz's try
© Getty Images
Quade Cooper showed Wallabies coach Robbie Deans exactly why he should be picked against the British & Irish Lions as Queensland Reds defeated Melbourne Rebels 33-20 in an intense Super Rugby match at Suncorp Stadium; also, perhaps, why he should not.
Cooper was at his enigmatic best in one of his last auditions before the Wallabies squad is completed, lining up against Deans' first-choice No.10, James O'Connor, as the Reds kept alive their finals hopes with a gutsy victory on Saturday night. He would at first have had the Wallabies coach scratching his head, showing plenty of attacking intent but twice gifting Melbourne tries when kicks were charged down in the first half just metres off his own line. He also hooked a crucial penalty and equally important conversion kicks to the left in the second half. But just as Deans would have felt justified in omitting Cooper from his initial 25-strong Wallabies squad for the Lions series, the Reds No.10 produced what only he can: Cooper finally shook off his kicking yips to give Queensland a 21-20 lead with a 65th-minute penalty; and he somehow burrowed under rival defenders and extended his arm to score an unlikely try four minutes later.
Queensland suddenly led 28-20 despite being jet-lagged after their ill-fated trip to South Africa, and despite trailing 17-13 at half-time and 20-13 after 44 minutes. A try on full-time from Ben Lucas off a sublime Will Genia pass blew out the margin further.
Cooper gets his final chance to earn one of the final six spots in the Wallabies squad when the Reds host the Lions at Suncorp Stadium on June 8, but Reds coach Ewen McKenzie still believes his playmaker deserves Test selection. "Someone will work out who did better," McKenzie said of the head-to-head with James O'Connor. "You don't want charge downs but ... Quade scored a great try - only he can do things like that."
Queensland arrived back in Brisbane reeling from a disappointing tour of South Africa, where they claimed just one bonus point and one try from two matches. In contrast, Melbourne were seeking a club-record third-straight win and a breakthrough maiden victory over Queensland.
The Rebels got the better of a first half lacking in free-flowing rugby but high in drama, with tries from Scott Fuglistaller and Rory Sidey trumping the intercept try from Luke Morahan, but they will lament their inability to benefit when Reds flanker Beau Robinson was sin-binned for initiating a brawl from a scrum. The Rebels rolled forward from the resulting penalty and thought they had a try, but Cadeyrn Neville was adjudged not to have grounded the ball. In the extraordinary passage of play that followed, Melbourne failed to take advantage of a series of scrum feeds just out from the Reds' line before Morahan's intercept saw him race away for a try completely against the run of play.
The Reds dominated the second half, however, with tries from Jake Schatz, Cooper and Lucas, and the Rebels' night went from bad to worse when captain Scott Higginbotham left the pitch with a dislocated shoulder injury in the 50th minute. Higginbotham claimed later that he might not need surgery and could prove his fitness by the opener against the Lions in Brisbane on June 22. "The doctor told me if I don't need surgery, I am playing. I will have some scans, a bit of rehab and get back into it."
Gareth Delve, the Rebels captain in Higginbotham's absence, said: "For an hour of that game, I thought we were the better team. But the Reds lifted their game and had some really good impact off the bench; in the end it just slipped away. We lost a bit of shape and played in the wrong areas, and then a few dumb penalties, myself included, and youcan't afford to do that against a quality team like the Reds; they made us pay."
Reds captain James Horwill hailed "a big effort after a bit of a disrupted week" coming back from South Africa. "Our bench guys really made a big impact," he said.
Queensland trailed at half-time but finished strongly to defeat the Rebels (video available in Australia only)
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape
Move over, Castro - from falling off a chair to stepping off the team bus, Scrum Sevens recounts some of the strangest rugby injuries ever
Martin Gillingham on the latest from France and why the national side can learn a thing or two from Top 14 side Bordeaux Begles