The Queensland Reds continued their march towards a championship defence on Friday at AAMI Park, posting a 32-17 win to dampen the Melbourne Rebels’ celebrations for their retiring captain, Stirling Mortlock.
The Rebels were looking for a major upset to farewell their hoardes of retiring players, and in the early stages of the game, looked like delivering. With the dynamic duo of O’Connor and Beale back in action, the Melbourne side dominated the run and possession for the first 15 minutes, but fell apart in their attacking 22. Adam Freier and Jono Owen both botched chances to open the home side’s scoring, and in the end, the Rebels only managed to become one kick to the good over that time – O’Connor slotting a penalty.
The Reds then put on a show, the visitors looking unaffected by loss of winger Digby Ioane, just hours before the match, with a chest infection. Their first try came off a classic Rebels line-out mistake, Scott Higginbottom stealing the ball, and Quade Cooper quickly moving it out wide after spotting the overlap created by Chris F’Sautia, who touched down on the eastern wing, a great way to mark his first run-on cap with the Reds.
Another Rebels mistake gifted the Reds their second not long after, with an appalling feed by Nick Phipps gifting the Queenslanders a scrum against the throw, which was then bulleted by Will Genia out to Mike Harris, who found space. Harris put it on the boot and weaved his way through what remained of the Rebel defence to re-gather. Harris popped it to Ant Fainga’a, who passed off to an overlapping Shipperley to extend the Reds’ lead.
The Rebels were scrambling in defence, to little avail, as the Reds camped out in their attacking half and continued to press towards the bonus point. Five minutes before oranges, it was Adam Wallace-Harrison who provided the Reds’ third try, slicing through a huge gap left by Rebel Ged Robinson to put it down with the greatest of ease. Mike Harris continued his Melbourne heroics, three conversions and a penalty from as many attempts gave the Reds a 21-point half-time lead.
The Rebels needed a spark, and it came in the form of Kurtley Beale, replacing James O’Connor, who went off with a hamstring complaint. The home side got their fair share of action early in the second, mistakes by the Reds giving the Rebels strong field position – which they initially did nothing with. After 10 minutes, the Reds gained a penalty, and Harris nailed the penalty to give the visitors a 24-point lead.
55 minutes into the match, the home side finally broke through the Reds’ line, with Kurtley Beale, whose presence at 10 had increased the potency of the Rebels’ attack immeasurably, saluting his captain with a Mortlock-style dive underneath the posts. The 27-10 scoreline injected a little bit of faith into the 14,110 shivering Rebels fans, and showed that the only person who should be donning the number 10 at the Rebels is Beale.
The icicle-ridden AAMI Park would be warmed up again moments later, when Lachie Mitchell finished a blinder of a run by the home side to score their second try. With a successful conversion, the Rebels had cut the lead to 10, regained the momentum, and set up an enticing finish to the Super Rugby year in Melbourne.
The miracle finish wasn’t coming, however, and the Reds sealed their much-needed bonus point near the full-time siren, Genia throwing a blinding cut-out pass to Nick Frisby for the visitors’ fourth, Mike Harris pushing his shot wide to finish the night five from six.
This was not the way it should have ended for Stirling Mortlock. While the Rebels lifted in the second half, the first 40 minutes was full of the error-prone and impotent attack that the Melbourne franchise had sought to exorcise from their game plan in 2012. As they head to the Republic to end their second Super season, with only one more win in the bank than at this time last year, the question is how can the Rebels break their habit of one step forward, two steps back.
MELBOURNE REBELS 17
Tries: Beale, Mitchell
Conversions: Huxley 1/1, Beale 1/1
Penalty goals: O’Connor 1/1
QUEENSLAND REDS 32
Tries: F’Sautia, Shipperley, Wallace-Harrison, Frisby
Conversions: Harris 3/4
Penalty goals: Harris 2/2
HT: MEL 3-21 RED
CROWD: 14,110 at AAMI Park
What did you think of the last match at AAMI Park in 2012? Can the Reds make a mark in the finals from here?