The St.George Queensland Reds become the first Australian team in Super Rugby history to record a regular season clean sweep over New Zealand opposition following a thrilling 12-11 victory over the Blues at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
The Reds have now accumulated 18 of a possible 20 competition points from their four matches against New Zealand sides in 2013 and end the day on top of the Super Rugby ladder with the ACT Brumbies two points behind ahead of their clash against the Western Force on Saturday.
Their position comes on the back of a successful three-game stretch throughout April, where Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie’s men have beaten New Zealand Conference leaders the Chiefs and Blues and drew with Australian Conference leaders, the Brumbies.
Flyhalf Quade Cooper scored all 12 points for the Reds in their enthralling victory over the Blues with a pressure penalty goal in the 73rd minute giving the Reds a one point lead which they would defend valiantly for the remainder of the match.
In a high-paced encounter with minimal kicking, the Blues threw everything at the Reds throughout the contest but Queensland’s defence responded to produce one of their best displays of the season to repel the visitors as they made one final surge in the dying stages of the game.
“We’ve played the top three teams in the past three weeks and we’ve come away with two wins and a draw. We are happy with that bit,” McKenzie said.
“Getting the record against the Kiwi sides is important as well, but from a competition point of view, the Blues are a pretty difficult team to play, so I’m glad we have that one out of the way.”
Cooper and scrumhalf Will Genia produced strong games in guiding the Reds to their seventh win of the Super Rugby season while captain James Horwill and prop James Slipper were standouts among the forwards.
However, it was the efforts of the bench which drew high praise from McKenzie postgame, after all seven replacements were injected into the match during the second half.
“It was taxing but we hung in there well enough to not allow the score to blowout and in the last 10 or 15 minutes I thought our bench gave us really good value. We were able to turn the tables and they started making errors. That was the difference,” McKenzie said.
“It wasn’t our finest game technically, but it was good in terms of character. That’s what the game is about. It’s a 22 man contribution sometimes and it was definitely that tonight.
“We ended the game with no guys on the bench, and that was necessary, because the guys put a lot of effort in.”
The Blues highlighted their attacking intent from the onset and it wasn’t until the 8th minute that the Blues were forced to make their first tackle of the evening, which also resulted in a Reds penalty and 3-0 lead when Cooper calmly slotted his first penalty goal.
Cooper was on fire early and a one-handed offload under pressure and bone-crunching tackle on Blues powerhouse Rene Ranger just two memorable moments getting a strong crowd of 31,050 on their feet.
Both teams traded penalty goals soon after but it was the Reds who led 9-6 after 30 minutes before Blues centre Jackson Willison scored the game’s only try to put the visitors ahead 11-9 at halftime.
The game continued to be played at a high tempo with Genia making two key plays midway through the second half which helped turn the momentum of play.
In the 63rd minute the Wallabies playmaker cleaned up a well-weighted grubber kick in his own in-goal despite enormous pressure bearing down from the visitors, while a linebreak and clever box kick in the corner only moments later pinned the Blues deep in their own half.
The Reds bench continued to apply pressure and were eventually rewarded with Cooper calmly slotting his fourth penalty goal late in the game to give his side a narrow 12-11 lead and the win.
The Reds will travel to Perth to play the Western Force next Saturday before returning to Suncorp Stadium on Friday 10 May to take on South African heavyweights and 2012 Super Rugby finalists, the Sharks.
St.George Queensland Reds 12 (Quade Cooper 4 pens) def Blues 11 (Jackson Willison try; Chris Noakes pen, Albert Nikoro pen)