Reds in, Brumbies out as Quade faces a forced holiday
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Queensland Reds' Quade Cooper runs the ball in his Super Rugby return (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
The distinct possibility of Quade Cooper copping a holiday for his high tackle on Berrick Barnes took a lot of the gloss off the Reds topping the Australian conference with a 32-16 defeat of the Waratahs at Suncorp.
Cooper was white carded, yellow carded and cited as Barnes’ tournament ended in Disneyland.
And the Waratahs completed their worst season in the state’s famous history with just four wins and 12 losses, the last eight in succession, both records.
A vastly different story for the Reds, with Will Genia’s inspiring leadership turning his side around after a rather ordinary first half with a 12-11 lead, and two tries knowing they had to score four tries to qualify.
In the first 17 minutes of the second half, the Reds piled on 17 unanswered points with positive rugby, aided and abetted by three glaring Waratah errors that each led to tries, stretching their lead to 29-11 and it was all over bar the handshakes.
Full credit to the defending champions for overcoming an horrific period in weeks 5, 6, 7, when they were flogged 61-8 by the Bulls at Loftus and 45-10 by the Force at Perth, giving up 13 tries and scoring only four.
And when they were beaten 29-25 by the Sharks at Suncorp, it was the first time in three years the Reds had lost three on the trot.
On the other side of the coin, the real story was the inexplicable collapse of the Brumbies, beaten 30-16 by the lowly Blues in Canberra.
“We went away from our game plan from the kick-off, giving away 14 points in 11 minutes. Everything we planned went out the window,” explained a bitterly disappointed coach Jake White.
They went into the final round with a five-point lead over the Reds, but came away without posting a tournament point. As a result both the Reds and Brumbies finished on 58 points, with the top honour going to the Reds with 11 wins to the Brumbies 10.
What a time for coach White, and skipper Ben Mowen, for the Brumbies to turn in their only poor performance of the season when it counted the most. White and Mowen have combined so well in their first year at the franchise, they deserved a far fairer fate.
But what’s fair, and what’s fact, don’t often sit at the same table.
Having said that, nothing can be taken away from the Auckland Blues. They completely outplayed and out-thought the Brumbies to claim only their fourth win of the season, including the last two rounds against the Force and Brumbies.
So the regular season is done-and-dusted, with the conference winners, and automatic finals series qualifiers:
South Africa – the Stormers on 66.
New Zealand – the Chiefs – 64.
And Australia – the Reds – 58.
The three next best performed of the remaining 12 franchises to make up the finals series of six – the wild cards:
Crusaders – 61.
Bulls – 59.
Sharks – 59.
Brumbies – 58.
Hurricanes – 57.
Next weekend, the two top qualifying Stormers and the Chiefs will enjoy a bye while the Reds meet the Sharks at Suncorp, and the Crusaders clash with the Bulls at Christchurch – both sudden death.
Two huge bonuses for the Australasian teams, forcing the South Africans to travel.
In the semis, the Stormers will meet the winner of the Reds and Sharks. The Chiefs will do battle with the winner of the Crusaders-Bulls match.
The 2012 Super Rugby championship final will be between the two winners of the semis at the home ground of the franchise with the most tournament points after the regular season.
The Crusaders will be the team to beat, seeking a record eighth Super crown.
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