The Melbourne Rebels have defeated the Queensland Reds 30-24 at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Friday night.
The Reds were coming off a gritty six-point win over the Sunwolves to sit third on the Australian conference.
The Rebels, on the other hand, came off three consecutive losses and were beginning to come under pressure by the Brumbies and Reds for the top spot in the conference.
The Queenslanders struck first in Melbourne. Quade Cooper was deemed to have been offside at the fringe of the breakdown and former Rebel Bryce Hegarty kicked the Reds to a three-point lead after seven minutes.
In wet conditions at AAMI Park, both sides struggled with handling errors and failed to mount any meaningful offensives.
In the 16th minute, the Reds put up a high ball on halfway and skipper Samu Kerevi gave chase. Unfortunately for the captain, he was never in a realistic position to catch the ball and preceded to take out Will Genia in the air. Referee Angus Gardner had no other option but to sin-bin the 25-year-old.
The Rebels looked to take advantage of the one-man overlap and did so just two minutes later.
When Isi Naisarani was unable to dot it down from the back of a line-out maul, Genia released it to his backs where Marika Koroibete found himself with the ball in hand.
He tucked it under his wing and put his head down before barging through the tackle of Sefa Naivalu to score for the hosts. Quade Cooper’s conversion put the Rebels up 7-3 after 20 minutes.
With a man in the bin, the Reds looked to suck time out of the game and accumulate points. They did exactly that when another offside penalty allowed Hegarty to reduce the margin to one point.
The Victorian outfit once again pressed into the Reds’ 22 and attempted to exploit the Queenslanders from the line-out maul.
They did so successfully when – with some help from the backs – they pushed their way over the line, as Anaru Rangi fell over the chalk. Cooper’s second conversion restored the lead to eight points.
It looked as if the score would stay that way at half-time but the visitors had other ideas.
Isaac Lucas worked his way towards the right wing on the 40-metre line before dummying past Koroibete. Lucas found Taniela Tupou on the inside, who brilliantly offloaded back to Lucas, cantering in to hit back for the Reds.
Hegarty was unable to add the extras to leave the Rebels’ edge at three.
The scored stayed at 14-11 at the interval despite a Scott Higginbotham yellow card.
Melbourne went to the line-out again but made a mess of it and the Reds kicked it into the stands to end the first half.
In front of a modest crowd in the Victorian capital, the home side were looking to make a fast start to the second half.
Off the set piece, Reece Hodge burst through the line on halfway and had Queensland back-pedalling into their own 22.
Some smart link-up play by the Rebels’ play-makers then put Tetera Faulkner away on the left-hand touchline, who slid in untouched in the corner.
Cooper’s conversion attempt swung back towards the posts but glanced off the uprights to leave the kick unsuccessful.
The Rebels then hit back six minutes later through captain Dane Haylett-Petty. His side were on the attack in the opposition half when quick hands saw Hodge find space on the right wing. A neat pass on the inside to Haylett-Petty saw them extend their lead to 13 points.
In worrying scenes, Quade Cooper left the field due to an ugly head knock. In attempting to tackle Samu Kerevi, his head collided with Kerevi’s knee, forcing Cooper off the field. He did not return for the remainder of the match.
A silly penalty conceded by Rangi for tackling Hegarty late after a kick saw the Queenslanders secure a penalty deep in Rebels territory.
The resulting line-out allowed replacement prop Harry Hoopert to score from the line-out maul. Hegarty’s conversion brought the Reds back to within six points.
Both sides then traded penalty kicks between the 61st and 70th minute with Hodge and Hegarty adding three points each for their respective sides.
Neither team could make a game of it, though, in the final ten minutes. A second Hodge penalty in the 79th minute only confirmed the result of the match.
The Reds earned a losing bonus-point after the siren, opting to take the points from a penalty. From just 40 metres out on a slight angle, Hegarty added yet another three points, making the score 30-24 in favour of the Rebels.
The Rebels broke their losing streak to maintain their spot on top of the Australian conference. They play the travelling Bulls next round back at AAMI Park.
The Reds were unable to secure their third win on the trot and will be bitterly disappointed to have let a huge opportunity slip. They return home to take on the old enemy the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium next Saturday night.