BRISBANE – Playmaker James O’Connor booted 10 points as a gutsy Queensland Reds swept past the Melbourne Rebels 25-13 and into the Super Rugby AU final on Saturday, where they will meet the ACT Brumbies.
Jordan Petaia, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Filipo Daugunu all scored tries in a bruising encounter to ensure the Reds made their first decider since winning the southern hemisphere Super 14 competition in 2011.
Brad Thorn’s young team have made big strides this year and head into next week’s showdown in Canberra buoyed by upsetting the table-topping Brumbies 26-7 last weekend.
“It’s awesome, we’ve given ourselves a chance which was all wanted from tonight, to keep fighting,” said Reds skipper Liam Wright, whose side pulled away in the second-half after going to the turn tied at 10-10.
“The job ain’t done yet, but it’s a good start. It was a whole squad effort.”
It was the Reds’ first back-to-back wins against the Rebels since 2013, with Thorn’s side a tough nut to crack at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, where they have won six in a row.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels said before the game they were clear underdogs, but they put up a good fight, hampered by injuries to big-match players Dane Haylett-Petty and Matt Toomua early in the second-half.
“Credit to the Reds. That first-half was fast, we had our opportunities but didn’t quite take them,” said captain Haylett-Petty. “Then the momentum swung and they were able to close it out. They played really well in the second-half.”
Played in front of 15,000 fans, the Rebels were unlucky to have a try ruled out on seven minutes when Andrew Kellaway’s boot grazed the sideline chalk, and it was the Reds who opened the scoring.
Their opening try came from young prospect Petaia, who intercepted a Toomua pass and sprinted 60 metres to the line.
O’Connor converted before Toomua nailed a penalty to pull back three points in a game played at a blistering pace.
The Reds began to open up and run with the ball but were met with crunching tackles, eventually winning a penalty with O’Connor stretching their lead further.
But they lost Petaia and fellow back Chris Feauai-Sautia to injuries and ever-dangerous Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete pounced with a pick-and-go try from a ruck on the half-time buzzer.
Toomua slotted the conversion to send them to the break at level-pegging.
Haylett-Petty and Toomua were more injury casualties after the restart and the Reds struck again with lock Salakaia-Loto dotting down after good work from Hunter Paisami.
With a finals berth on the line, the Rebels threw everything they had at the Reds.
Reece Hodge and O’Connor exchanged penalties as the Reds clung on, with Daugunu sealing the win with their third try five minutes before the end.