The Queensland Reds have continued their successful 2021 Harvey Norman Super Rugby AU campaign, claiming their biggest ever win over the Melbourne Rebels in Victoria with a 44-19 victory.
The Queenslanders crossed for six tries, with Taniela Tupou dotting down for a brace within the opening 20 minutes, while captain James O’Connor slotted four conversions and two penalties. It was the Reds’ biggest win over the Rebels since the two sides first met back in 2011.
The win also marked Reds centre and Pittsworth product Hamish Stewart’s 50th Queensland and Super Rugby cap, having made his debut during the 2017 season.
Tupou opened the account in the third minute, scoring from a pick-and-drive effort off the back of a rolling maul five metres from the Rebels’ line. O’Connor slotted the conversion to put the Reds ahead 7-nil.
Hunter Paisami intercepted a Rebels’ pass just moments later and ran over 60 metres to score under the posts. O’Connor made no mistakes with the boot, slotting the conversion before adding further scoreboard pressure in the 11th minute with his first penalty of the night, giving the Reds an early 17-nil lead.
The Reds were over for their third try in the 17th minute, with O’Connor cutting back to the blindside and making a break before offloading to Tupou who swan-dove over for his second. The conversion from O’Connor extended the Reds lead to 24-nil.
Melbourne winger Frank Lomani sparked the Rebels comeback late in the first-half, crossing for a try himself in the 30th minute before making a break off a scrum move to set up Reece Hodge for the home-side’s second. Toomua slotted both conversions to narrow the margin to 24-14 as the two teams headed into the sheds at half-time.
The Rebels had the first chance to score points in the second half with a penalty in the 45th minute, but Toomua’s attempt was unsuccessful, leaving the score at 24-14.
The Reds scored just two minutes later, with a Jock Campbell intercept leading to a try for Fraser McReight. O’Connor’s conversion and a further penalty saw the Queenslanders claim a 34-14 lead in the 56th minute.
The Reds nearly crossed for their fifth try of the night at the 60-minute-mark, with O’Connor kicking cross-field for Jordan Petaia, who battered the ball back in the air for Bryce Hegarty, but referee Amy Perrett pulled the play back for a penalty. O’Connor tried the cross-kick for a second time from the ensuing play, with Perrett awarding advantage once again, but the ball went dead.
The Reds packed a scrum from the following penalty and O’Connor darted down the blindside, drawing in the defence before offloading to Campbell who dotted down in the corner. O’Connor missed the conversion, leaving the score at 39-14.
Lomani again fired in attack for the Rebels, with a break from the winger down the right flank leading to a try for Michael Wells in the left corner in the 67th minute. Toomua’s conversion attempt shaved the outside of the left post allowing the Reds to maintain a 20-point lead, 39-19.
The Rebels went deep into the Reds half with 10 minutes to play and tested the visitors’ defence before McReight managed to secure a turnover, ending Melbourne’s final attacking raid.
The Queenslanders worked their way back into the Rebels’ 22m and the visitors again opted for a cross-field kick, this time Hegarty kicking for replacement winger Josh Flook, who contested the ball in the air with Hodge, who knocked the ball back into the in-goal, allowing for Flook to ground the ball and solidify the Reds’ win with just three minutes left on the clock. Hegarty missed the conversion attempt leaving the final score at 44-19.
After a week away from home, with the Reds staying in Sydney following their win over the Waratahs due to the COVID outbreak in Brisbane, Thorn was pleased with his side and believed the time away allowed his side to come together.
“The most pleasing thing about tonight was the whole team effort, the full 23, our reserves brought a lot from the bench,” said Thorn.
“We’re a tight-knit-group. Usually in the old format of Super Rugby you would get three-week periods away in South Africa, but you knew it was time that would pull the team tighter together.
“With Super Rugby AU you don’t get those opportunities so with this week, we could have seen it as a negative, but we adapted and approached the challenge with a positive mindset and then we came here tonight and got the job done.
“We’re a team that has points in us, but it’s the other side of the game in defence that we spoke about tonight and we put pressure on with our line speed.
“The other pleasing thing is our improvement around the turnover rate, we just about halved it from last week. We’ve known there are positives from our season so far, but we haven’t been happy with elements and we know there is more potential in this team and we’re trying to reach for that.
“We have last year’s winners coming up and that will be a tough assignment again. It’s good to get the win tonight but we return home tomorrow and then go again next week.”
The Reds return to Suncorp Stadium next Saturday, 10 April, to host the 2020 Super Rugby AU champions the Brumbies, and O’Connor is looking forward to another chance to play in front of the Queensland crowd.
“We love playing at Suncorp,” O’Connor said.
“We love being at home in front of our fans and we’ll be ready for it.”
Queensland Reds 44 (Taniela Tupou 2, Hunter Paisami, Fraser McReight, Jock Campbell, Josh Flook tries; James O’Connor 4 conv 2 pens) def Melbourne Rebels 19 (Frank Lomani, Reece Hodge, Michael Wells tries; Matt Toomua 2 conv)