Friday, 29 June 2012
Queensland are breathing down the Brumbies' necks after holding off the fast-finishing Rebels 32-17 in their Super Rugby clash in Melbourne.
The Reds ruined the Rebels' plans to send their beloved skipper Stirling Mortlock out a winner, running in four tries to grab a bonus-point win to move level with the Australian conference leaders, who play on Saturday night against the Western Force.
The defending champions started slowly after three weeks out for the Test season hiatus with the Rebels riding the emotion of the retiring Mortlock's last home game.
But Melbourne blew two early try-scoring opportunities while the Reds took their chances to storm to a 24-3 halftime lead.
With Test coach Robbie Deans watching from the stands, the Wallabies five-eighth stocks took a beating with both No.10s Quade Cooper and James O'Connor departing early in the second half.
Kurtley Beale managed to play out the match but looked troubled by his recent rib injury.
Cooper, on the comeback after a knee reconstruction, was reportedly benched as a precautionary measure while O'Connor suffered a slight hamstring strain.
Queensland scored three opening-half tries, the second from Shipperley one of the best of the season.
From a tighthead scrum 20m out, Reds inside centre Mike Harris made a break and then kicked ahead and re-gathered before he sent the ball on to Anthony Fainga'a.
He found Shipperley who combined with Chris F'Sautia and the winger managed to get a pass back inside as he went over the sideline for his fellow flyer to score.
Harris' conversion pushed the scoreline out to 17-3.
F'Sautia scored the opening try in his first Super Rugby start after replacing a flu-stricken Digby Ioane.
The Rebels came out firing in the second half and unsettled the Reds' defensive patterns with their all-or-nothing approach.
It reaped a reward after six minutes with Beale spotting a gap in the stretched defence to get the ball down.
Another try in the 67th minute through Lachlan Mitchell made it interesting when Melbourne got to 27-17 but Queensland regained their composure and put the result beyond doubt when halfback Will Genia fired a flat cut-out pass to Nick Frisby who dived across in the corner.
The Rebels had a presentation on the field post match to farewell a number of their players including former England Test representative Michael Lipman, former Wallabies Al Campbell and Julian Huxley as well as James Hilgendorf and Tom Chamberlain.
Key back Mark Gerrard also announced he would only play one game in South Africa before returning for the birth of his fourth child in Sydney, and he then planned to play out his career in Japan.
Rebels coach Damien Hill was furious with his team's poor display in the set-piece, with starting hooker Adam Freier dragged after 27 minutes.
"The first 10 minutes we were on the front foot but we didn't take the couple of chances that we had and then the three tries the Reds scored came off our set piece," Hill said.
"We gave them the opportunities and to their credit they took them."
The Rebels said Beale was just "battered and bruised" while O'Connor will undergo a scan on his hamstring but is unlikely to make the trip to South Africa.
Mortlock is a certainty to travel.
With two games at home against the Highlanders and NSW to finish the regular season Reds coach Ewen McKenzie was satisfied with the bonus-point win on an emotional night for the Rebels.
"It's a difficult place to play, plenty of big name teams have fallen over here," he said.
"There was a patch there where we probably gifted them some counter attack and when Beale went to 10 it made a big difference; they were really quite slippery and difficult to handle.
"Coming off a long break on six day preparation I was pretty pleased."
Cooper suffered a lower leg bump that compressed some nerves.
"He was worried that if he wasn't feeling his leg properly it could have an impact on his knee so rather than take any risk we took him off," McKenzie said.
Young winger F'Sautia suffered an AC joint injury and will have scans while chest X-rays on Ioane showed some signs of pneumonia.