Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper took 17 minutes to stamp his mark on the game and showed glimpses of his mercurial ability as the Queensland Reds beat the bottom-placed Lions 34-20 in their Super Rugby clash in Brisbane yesterday.
Cooper linked well with scrumhalf Will Genia, who was superb for the Reds as he scored one try and set up another, while Mike Harris slotted 14 points for the Queenslanders, who closed the gap on the ACT Brumbies in the Australian conference.
The Brumbies, who beat the Hurricanes 37-25 on Friday, are on 44 points, while the Reds are on 36 and still within sight of the top-six playoffs.
“Not happy with the whole 80 minutes, happy with parts of it, but we had a job to do. We got it done,” Reds captain James Horwill said. “Quade showed some Quade-esque moments, so that’s good for us. He pulled up okay and looks good, so that’s only positive for him.”
Cooper had trotted on to Lang Park behind his team with a noticable limp.
The strapping on his right leg emphasized that he was playing his first match in seven months since he destroyed the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the rugby World Cup in October.
The 24-year-old appeared tentative in the opening exchanges, as did the Reds, with the Lions making most of the play and being rewarded with two penalties to Elton Jantjies.
Cooper finally got himself in the game in the 18th minute when he spotted a slight gap between two forwards, accelerated through it and found his runner inside to set up an attacking ruck.
He then handled at least three other times as the Reds hammered away at the line before openside flanker Liam Gill crashed over and with Mike Harris converting, the Reds took the lead they never relinquished.
Harris added two penalties in the first half to give the Reds a 13-6 lead.
The Reds forwards continued to lay the platform with hooker Saia Faingaa crashing over early in the second half.
Genia linked with replacement Chris Feauai-Sautia to set up the teenage center for his first Super Rugby try, about 90 seconds into his debut, then sprinted 60m for a brillant individual try to give the Reds their bonus point.
Lions’ replacement forwards Martin Bezuidenhout and Jaco Kriel scored consolation tries, both of which Jantjies converted.
CRUSADERS 59, BLUES 12
The Canterbury Crusaders returned to form with a vengeance when they crushed the Auckland Blues 59-12 in a nine-tries-to-two drubbing in their Super 15 clash yesterday in Christchurch.
Stung by criticism that they have been well below par, particularly after losing to the Melbourne Rebels last week, the seven-time champions produced a well-drilled performance to hammer the Blues with a constant wave of intense attacks.
With their talismanic players Richie McCaw and Dan Carter back to near their best, the Crusaders regained fifth place from the Otago Highlanders while the Blues continue to languish near the bottom.
Carter had been sheltered from fly-half duties in recent weeks as he recovered from a groin injury, but he returned to the No. 10 role with a masterful performance of directing play and landed six of eight shots at goal.
The Crusaders, often accused of being slow starters, took a stranglehold on the game from the kick-off to lead 19-0 with three tries inside the first quarter and they had the bonus-point fourth try before half-time.