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The majority of the 30,118 Suncorp crowd at the Reds-Lions clash last night turned up too see the long-awaited comeback of Wallaby fly-half Quade Cooper for his first appearance since the Rugby World Cup seven months ago.
But debutant Chris F’Sautia stole Cooper’s thunder.
The 18-year-old centre-winger hasn’t even played one senior club game. Yet with his first serious touch of the ball he made a midfield bust, transferred to man-of-the-match Will Genia, and doubled around to back up his vice-captain to score without a hand being laid on him.
What a stunning start to his senior representative career. Two touches in one movement, and one try, all in the space of his first three minutes on debut.
The solidly-built and pretty quick Samoan has been a member of the Australian Schoolboys for three years, playing 11 internationals, and is in the Australian under 20 squad for the IRB Junior Rugby World Cup in South Africa next month.
His JRWC captain Liam Gill turned in another blinder for the Reds last night, as the defending Super champions stayed in the hunt for a play-off berth with a 34-20 win over the cellar-dwelling Lions.
Cooper’s return? Quade showed encouraging glimpses of what he is again capable of producing during his 40 minutes back on duty. It was his brilliant midfield bust that led to the Reds first try by Gill on 20 minutes to open the Reds’ account.
But it was far from convincing with the front-running Brumbies in Canberra next Saturday.
For the first 20 minutes and the last 20 the Reds were very ordinary, easily dominated by a franchise that has won just four of their last 45 Super games and in real danger of being dumped from the tournament for the Southern Kings out of Port Elizabeth, the franchise the Melbourne Rebels beat for inclusion last year.
If the Reds play like last night’s effort against the Brumbies, they will be demolished.
Take the first half stats. The Lions had 73% possession for the first 20 minutes and only led 6-0. By half time the Reds had 56% possession and were camped in the Lions quarter for 4 minutes 18, the Lions in reply 2 minutes 37, but the Reds only led 13-6.
The Reds stretched that lead to 34-6 and went off the boil again to win 34-20.
But between those 20-minute segments the Reds played some magnificent rugby in patches by scoring five tries for the vital bonus point with Genia, flanker Gill, winger Digby Ioane, hooker Saia Fainga’a, and prop James Slipper outstanding, with Mike Harris landing all six shots at goal.
The real genius of Genia is surfacing every week now after a slow start to the tournament. Last night another breath-taking 65-metre solo try, the same as last week against the Chiefs, and in the Super Rugby final last year against the Crusaders.
He is the only half-back in world rugby who can turn on that magic. Electric.
There is no finer sight than Genia in full flight. Reminiscent of Mark Ella, David Campese, Reg Gasnier, and Kenny Irvine in their heyday. Pure poetry in motion.
So saddle up for next Saturday. The Brumbies are playing positive running rugby, the Reds will need to bring their A-game if they are to compete and have any chance of defending their title.
And a lot more of Chris F’Sautia if you please Ewen McKenzie.
Exciting and effortless.