Queensland Reds hang on in Rebels Showdown
The St.George Queensland Reds have kept their unbeaten start to the Harvey Norman Super Rugby AU season intact after claiming a nail-biting 23-21 win over the Melbourne Rebels at Suncorp Stadium.
The visitors led for 76 minutes of the contest, as six Matt Toomua penalty goals kept the Rebels in front on the scoreboard.
Queensland rallied late however, with a stunning Alex Mafi try and ensuing James O’Connor conversion snatching a dramatic comeback victory for the home side.
Mafi scored both of the Reds’ two tries in the tightly contested affair, while new recruit Suliasi Vunivalu made his Queensland debut in the two-point win.
Reds head coach Brad Thorn said: “It was a tough old game. You take the win and move on.
“Having been in some successful teams, you do have those sort of games and you just need to win them. They’re not pleasant, but it’s important you get that win.
“I like that the lads found a way to win with two minutes to go – sometimes you win ugly and they found a way,” said Thorn
Toomua opened the scoring with a pair of penalty goals, giving his side an early 6-nil lead.
O’Connor responded with a penalty of his own in the 20th minute, before the Rebels skipper slotted his third extend the Rebels’ lead back out to six.
A fourth successful Toomua penalty put Melbourne’s advantage out to 12-3 by the 35th minute, with Queensland’s efforts plagued by ill-discipline in the opening half.
O’Connor made no mistake with another three-point chance on the stroke of the half-time break, as the visitors headed to the sheds with a six-point lead.
Toomua’s sixth penalty made the score 15-6 early in the second stanza, before Mafi broke through to score his first try of game in the 48th minute. The hooker crossed on the back of a powerful Queensland rolling maul, with the five-pointer his second in as many games in 2021. O’Connor made no mistake with the conversion to bring the Reds within two points at 15-13.
A long-range Reece Hodge penalty tacked on another three points to the Rebels lead, with Feao Fotuaika then shown a red-card to reduce Queensland to 14-men for close to the remainder of the game.
A third O’Connor penalty cut the Reds’ deficit to two points in the 62nd minute, but Toomua’s sixth penalty ensured the Rebels held a five-point advantage as the game entered its final 10-minutes.
Mafi almost finished a stunning long-distance team sequence in the 72nd minute, with a slight bobble over the try-line the only thing keeping the hosts from claiming their first lead of the match.
The hooker wouldn’t be denied a second time though, bursting through the Rebels’ defence with a nicely worked set move to level it up with just three-minutes to play. O’Connor slotted the conversion, giving Queensland a slender lead with just four remaining.
Toomua had the chance to snatch victory with a seventh penalty goal after the siren, but was unable to convert, as the Reds held on for a narrow 23-21 lead in front of their home crowd.
Queensland have their first bye of the season next week, before travelling to Canberra to take on the Brumbies in a Grand Final rematch on 13 March.
Queensland Reds 23
Melbourne Rebels 21
Queensland Reds (1-15):
Dane Zander, Alex Mafi, Taniela Tupou, Angus Blyth, Seru Uru, Angus Scott-Young, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor (c), Filipo Daugunu, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Jock Campbell
Reserves: Josh Nasser, Harry Hoopert, Feao Fotuaika, Ryan Smith, Sam Wallis, Moses Sorovi, Bryce Hegarty, Suliasi Vunivalu
Melbourne Rebels (1-15):
Cabous Eloff, Jordan Uelese, Pone Faamausili, Steve Cummins, Trevor Hosea, Brad Wilkin, Richard Hardwick, Michael Wells, Joe Powell, Matt To’omua (c), Marika Koroibete, Reece Hodge, Stacey Ili, Lachlan Anderson, Tom Pincus
Reserves: Ed Craig, Isaac Aedo Kailea, Rhys van Nek, Rob Leota, Josh Kemeny, James Tuttle, Glen Vaihu, Frank Lomani