Quade Cooper made an emphatic statement to Wallabies selectors ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour as he steered the Queensland Reds to an upset 31-23 win over the Waikato Chiefs yesterday.
A day after Cooper was surprisingly omitted from Robbie Deans’ 30-man preliminary Wallabies squad, the playmaker was a central figure in the Reds’ bonus-point win over the defending champions and New Zealand conference leaders.
Cooper’s absence from the squad for June’s British and Irish Lions tour so incensed former Wallaby fullback Greg Martin that he accused New Zealand-born coach Deans of trying to sabotage Australian rugby.
While Cooper denied any rift with Deans, he showed his credentials with a game-breaking try just after halftime, when the Reds held a slender 14-13 lead, and added to his points tally by converting all four tries and a penalty.
In partnership with scrumhalf Will Genia, the Waikato-born Cooper dictated the flow of the match, while the Reds forwards dominated the breakdown and ensured a steady supply of possession.
“He’s been improving from week to week, and Willy and him have got a really good combination together and they direct us around the park really well,” skipper James Horwill said.
“So it was a big effort by both of them, and the boys up front really did a really good job to lay the platform for them,” he added.
The Chiefs, who have not beaten the Reds at home since 2008, could only manage two tries against the Australians’ well-structured defense and relied on fullback Gareth Anscombe for the remainder of their points.
Anscombe became the first Super 15 player to reach 100 points for the season with a match haul of 13 to take his tally to 111, ahead of the Brumbies’ Christian Lealiifano, who has 99 after his side’s 30-19 win over the Otago Highlanders on Friday.
The Reds struck first when a wayward pass by Chiefs flyhalf Aaron Cruden, in his 50th Super outing, was intercepted by Rod Davies for the first of his two tries.
The Chiefs replied with a penalty to Anscombe and a converted try by Bundee Aki to hit the front 10-7, but it was to be the only time they would lead in the game.
The Reds were in front by halftime following a try to Jake Schatz off a driving maul, and when Anscombe narrowed the gap to one point soon after the resumption of play Cooper responded with his try.
The Reds attacked from a lineout close to the Chiefs’ line and a smart dummy pass by Cooper saw him easily beat Cruden to dot down under the posts.
Cooper followed his try with a penalty and Genia stretched the lead to 28-13 with a long pass to put Davies in for his second try.
Anscombe and Cooper traded penalties, before Patrick Osborne scored the Chiefs’ second try while Anthony Faingaa was in the sin bin.
BLUES V HURRICANES
The Auckland Blues turned in a powerhouse performance to humble the Wellington Hurricanes 28-6 in their match at Eden Park yesterday.
The Blues were well served by their forwards, with blindside flanker Steven Luatua in inspirational form, sealing a bonus point with their fourth try with 20 minutes to spare and keeping their opponents try-less.
The Hurricanes, beaten at home 34-20 in the teams’ first encounter of the season, were dominated on all fronts and kept scoreless for the entire second half, denied repeatedly by desperate Blues defense on the last line.
The Blues’ emphatic win kept them in touch with the New Zealand conference-leading Waikato Chiefs, who were upset by the Queensland Reds in Hamilton, as the season nears the halfway mark.
Winger Frank Halai put the Blues on the board in the 13th minute, cantering under the posts after some sharp work upfield from scrumhalf Piri Weepu, fullback Charles Piutau and flyhalf Chris Noakes.
Noakes converted and the Blues kept the Hurricanes scoreless for nearly half an hour, until Samoan international flyhalf Tusi Pisi marked his first start for the Super Rugby side with a poised drop-goal against the run of play.
Beauden Barrett, shifted from flyhalf to fullback, brought the Hurricanes back within a point with a penalty, but the Blues ramped up the pressure toward the end of the half.
Flanker Luatua barged through four tackles and charged for the line, but was held up by Hurricanes scrumhalf T.J. Perenara.
However, it was a brief reprieve, as fullback Charles Piutau swooped to plant the ball over the line on the stroke of halftime after receiving from the 5m scrum.
Hooker James Parsons added to the Hurricanes’ pain by thundering over near the left corner a few minutes after the break, after taking a perfectly weighted inside pass from Noakes to pad the score to 19-6.
Piutau squandered a gilt-edged chance for a second try in the 57th minute when he fumbled a dribbled ball when diving over the line, but prop Tom McCartney made up for it with the Blues’ fourth a few minutes later, burrowing under the Wellington defense for a try under the posts.
The Blues defended stoutly for the remaining 20 minutes, with Luatua capping a barnstorming game by holding up replacement back Reynold Lee-lo to keep the Hurricanes scoreless and improve his chances of All Blacks selection.