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By Reds Media Unit
The St.George Queensland Reds have welcomed back captain James Horwill to Super Rugby in style with an entertaining 23-18 win over the Bulls at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
The Reds celebrated Horwill’s comeback match by scoring two tries to nil although it wasn’t until the final play of the game that the victory was secured when winger Chris Feauai-Sautia produced a spectacular try-saving tackle on Bulls flyer Bjorn Basson.
Horwill was impactful in his return from a 10-month injury layoff although it was playmaking duo Will Genia and Quade Cooper who stole the show in igniting the Reds for both of their tries.
Fullback Jono Lance crossed in the 38th minute off the back of some brilliant play from halves Genia and Cooper while it was Cooper who also scored the Reds second five-pointer when a blindside dart from Genia gave the flyhalf a clear run to the line.
The victory was the Reds fourth of the season from six games and sets them up for their upcoming clash against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday before enjoying a well-earned bye to prepare for a blockbuster April 13 encounter against the reigning champion Chiefs in Hamilton.
Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie said his side would build on tonight’s victory ahead of games against two straight New Zealand opponents.
“I saw some bits and pieces which made me feel pretty good that we are starting to climb. We certainly are nowhere near the top of the mountain, but we are heading in the right direction,” McKenzie said.
“We have seven games before the bye so if we can get there at five wins and two losses that will be fantastic. You would love seven from seven, but given the nature of the competition, that would be a good result. But, we’ve got a bit of work to do to get that.
“We do have to go on the road but we will look forward to playing the Highlanders and the Chiefs. We’ve won the last two times we’ve played in Hamilton and the Highlanders will also be a challenge down there.”
Horwill said he pleased to see the team get a victory in his comeback game.
“It was good to get the match out of the way. It is the last hurdle you need to tick off, actually playing a game,” Horwill said.
“My body feels good and the hamstring feels fine. I’m happy I got through it and even happier we got the result we were looking for. I thought we were very enthusiastic and we just focused on trying to do the simple things well.”
The Reds highlighted their attacking intent early and were rewarded for their efforts with Cooper getting his side on the scoreboard with a penalty goal in the 5th minute.
However, the game changed 10 minutes later when the Reds were forced to play with 14 men after fullback Jono Lance was given a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Bulls lock Grant Hittingh.
The visitors edged in front during this period courtesy of two successful penalties to flyhalf Louis Fouche before Cooper brought the game back square with his second penalty of the night.
The Reds up-tempo brand of Rugby began to tire the Bulls and they were eventually rewarded when Lance made amends for his earlier departure to take advantage of some great lead-up work to score the game’s opening try, giving the Reds a 13-6 lead at halftime.
Ill-discipline and cheap penalties gave the Bulls a chance to regain the ascendency with three penalty goals in 10 minutes to begin the second half although it was the Reds who lifted and finished the game stronger.
The Reds pinned themselves deep in Bulls territory and following some strong forward play it was Cooper who took advantage of a miss-match in defence, darting through two Bulls defenders to score Queensland’s second try of the night.
A Morne Steyn penalty goal in the 70th minute brought the score to 23-18, setting up a grandstand finish.
With time having expired, the Bulls drove their way up the field with successive penalties and looked likely to score in the left-hand corner only for a brilliant effort from young winger Feauai-Sautia pushing Bjorn into touch.
The match also saw former Australian Schoolboy captain Curtis Browning get his first taste of Super Rugby when he entered the field in the 50th minute.
The Reds next play at Suncorp Stadium on April 20 against Australian Conference rivals the ACT Brumbies. Tickets are on sale through Ticketek.
St.George Queensland Reds 23 (Jono Lance, Quade Cooper tries; Quade Cooper 2 cons, 3 pens) def Bulls 18 (Louis Fouche 5 pens; Morne Steyn pen)