The Queensland Reds punished the Melbourne Rebels for a string of defensive lapses to claim a 33-18 victory and take an iron grip on the Australian Super Rugby conference yesterday.
Although nowhere near as emphatic as their seven-try 53-3 demolition of the championship new boys in week five, tries from Scott Higginbotham, Radike Samo, Dom Shipperley and Digby Ioane helped the Reds to a 13-point lead over New South Wales in the standings.
Flyhalf Quade Cooper, who added 13 points from the boot, was not at his brilliant best, but his Wallabies halfback partner Will Genia was irresistible as the Reds got back to winning ways after their upset loss to the Wellington Hurricanes last week.
“The loss was a wake-up call,” Reds captain James Horwill said. “We needed to start well and continue the pressure and credit to the boys, we did that.”
The Rebels scored tries through James Hilgendorf, Afusipa Taumoepeau and Peter Betham and had the better of much of the second half, but were left ruing poor tackling and profligate goalkicking.
Fullback Julian Huxley, assuming the kicking duties in the absence of English flyhalf Danny Cipriani, who stood down after staying out late after last week’s loss in Sydney, made just one of five kicks and Stirling Mortlock missed his sole attempt.
The teams had exchanged a penalty apiece in the early exchanges before flanker Higginbotham clattered through three Rebels tacklers to touch down in the 18th minute and silence the 16,000 crowd.
Samo added the second two minutes later after a searing Genia break and Cooper added a conversion and a second penalty to give the visitors an 18-3 lead before the half-hour mark.
The Rebels struck back when impressive Welsh No. 8 Gareth Delve set up flyhalf Hilgendorf to cross for a try, but he injured his knee in the process and Huxley missed a relatively easy kick for the extra points.
Cooper added another penalty before Genia’s neat cross-kick found three of his team mates unmarked and replacement winger Dom Shipperley scooped up the ball and crashed over the line to send the visitors into halftime with a 26-8 lead.
A yellow card for Reds center Mike Harris after 57 minutes gave the Rebels hope and they capitalized almost immediately when replacement back Taumoepeau barreled over the try line.
The Reds struck back again through winger Iaone, however, and, restored to 15 men, the Reds never looked like giving up their lead. When winger Betham crossed under a pile of bodies in the 73rd minute, it was little more than a consolation.