The Queensland Reds have celebrated their second annual Indigenous Round fixture with a thrilling 33-20 Super Rugby bonus-point victory over the Melbourne Rebels at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
The Reds extended their unbeaten record against the Rebels with tries to Luke Morahan, Jake Schatz, Quade Cooper and Ben Lucas giving the Queenslanders a valuable four-try bonus point in what was their final Super Rugby match before the June Test break.
The four-tries-to-two victory was a fitting way to celebrate hooker James Hanson’s milestone 50th game for Queensland with the Reds digging deep to produce a stirring second half comeback after trailing 20-13.
It was also crucial to the Reds final chances ahead of next weekend’s scheduled bye, where they will pocket a further four competition points, and has them in a strong position before their final regular season fixture against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney on July 13.
“I thought we worked our way through the game pretty well and at the end got away with the bonus point,” Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie said.
“The nature of the competition is there aren’t a lot of games so you just have to win. Coming off two losses we needed to make sure we got back into the winning frame of mind, which we did.”
Saturday’s Super Rugby fixture was a special event for Queensland Rugby with it being their second annual Indigenous Round match, which as part of National Reconciliation Week, provides an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous culture and heritage on an international stage.
The ‘Frank Ivory Medal’ for Best on Ground was a new initiative introduced in 2013 to recognise Queensland’s first Indigenous Rugby player and was awarded to flanker Jake Schatz for his tireless efforts across the 80 minutes.
The result was the second straight Indigenous Round win by the Reds after overcoming the Highlanders in 2012 but it was not all one-way traffic with the home side needing to dig deep against a Rebels team coming off victories over the Stormers and Waratahs.
“In any interstate game there is a lot of passion,” Reds captain James Horwill said.
“There always is, but in that last 30 minutes I think the guys that came on off the bench did a great job for us. That’s something we knew going into the game, that we would need guys who could finish the game strongly.
“Guys like Gilly and Saia made a big impact and we probably played more like we wanted to. Once we put it all together, held onto the ball and applied pressure, we got the result.”
The Rebels were first on the scoreboard through flyhalf James O’Connor but there was plenty to like from the Reds early both in attack and defence with prop James Slipper welcoming Scott Higginbotham back to Suncorp Stadium with a shuddering try-saving tackle soon before Morahan twice found space and came close to scoring down the left sideline.
The Reds found themselves down a man when Beau Robinson was yellow carded and the Rebels responded by camping themselves deep inside Queensland territory but came away with no reward.
The Rebels attacked through their set-piece for large portions of the 10 minutes that Robinson was off the field but after a gutsy defensive stand it was Morahan who changed the complexion of the match when he latched onto a misguided pass to score a long-range intercept try.
Robinson returned shortly after but it was the visitors who struck back twice from charged-down kicks to go into halftime ahead 17-13.
Down by seven points midway through the second half the Reds were rewarded for rejecting a penalty attempt when an 11-man driving maul powered its way over to bring the margin to 20-18.
The injection of hooker Saia Faingaa and flanker Liam Gill from the bench lifted the Reds and only minutes later it was Cooper who was successful with his second penalty goal of the evening, giving the home side a one point lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Cooper produced another piece of magic to score the Reds third try of the evening and in his return from injury Harris made no mistake with the sideline conversion to give Queensland a 28-20 advantage.
The Reds pushed for their fourth try and it came when Lucas scored untouched in the final moments of the match, ending Queensland’s final home regular season Super Rugby match of 2013 on a high.
The Reds will however return to Suncorp Stadium next weekend when they take on The British and Irish Lions in a historic tour match against the Northern Hemisphere giants.
St.George Queensland Reds 33 (Luke Morahan, Jake Schatz, Quade Cooper tries; Quade Cooper con, 2 pens, dg; Mike Harris con) def Melbourne Rebels 20 (Scott Fuglistaller, Rory Sidey tries; James O’Connor 2 cons, 2 pens)