The St.George Reds will host the Super Rugby Final after a spectacular hat-trick to winger Rod Davies inspired Queensland to a historic 30-13 Semi-Final victory over the Blues at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
The Reds will return to Suncorp Stadium next Saturday to play either the Crusaders or Stormers with tickets going on sale to Members from 10am on Sunday 3 July.
The night belonged to the entire Reds squad although flyer Davies also captured a piece of history by becoming the first Reds player to score three tries during a Super Rugby match, while flyhalf Quade Cooper produced a scintillating effort in a highly entertaining five try affair.
The Cooper inspired demolition of the Blues saw the Reds fight from limited possession to score four tries to one in the anticipated Semi-Final encounter and ensured that Queensland’s magical season would continue into the final week.
“I think we can be excited. We’ve won a Semi-Final and we’ve put ourselves in the position to host the Super Rugby Final,” Reds captain James Horwill.
“The big game’s to come now. We’ll put tonight in the past, it’s done and now we will build to next week.”
Head Coach Ewen McKenzie was equally as pleased after guiding the Reds to the Final, their first in the professional rugby era after faltering in their past three Semi-Final attempts in 2001, 1999 and 1996.
“It’s all good for Queensland and these events are great for the fans to be able to turn up,” McKenzie said.
“We’re just pleased to be making a contribution and not just sitting and watching on TV.”
Off the back of characteristically solid defence, Cooper’s brilliant display of foot, ball and mind skills was barely outshined by the hat-trick of speedster Davies and the efforts of an unheralded forward pack lead by captain James Horwill.
“He [Davies] had the chance against the Cheetahs and let it slip, so he got one back,” Horwill said of Davies three try effort.
“Some of Quade’s freakish ability to set up Ben Tapuai’s try was pretty amazing, so to have guys with that sort of special talent in your side is fantastic.
“I think across the board our defence in that first half was probably what brought us the points; we pressured them and we were probably more disciplined in that first half.”
Cooper played a role in three of the four Reds tries with his sideline effort in setting up their second try to Tapuai just one of a number of highlight moments produced by the Wallabies superstar.
“That’s just pure Quade. I’m still trying to work out how he set up Ben Tapuai’s try,” McKenzie said.
“He was everywhere in that game. I think I said the other day that the bigger the stage the more he likes it.”
Typically of their season, the Reds pack dug their heels in early after the Blues dominated possession, and allowed the famed halves combination of Will Genia and Quade Cooper to spread their wings in the offensive flare that has characterised their 2011 season.
Both teams went into the match with the intention to attack although it was a strong defensive read from Davies that resulted in the initial breakthrough and a 70 metre intercept try.
Next Cooper produced the jaw-dropping foot skills that has famed the 2011 season; an incredible fend on Munro, sidestepping defenders, a perfect dummy and a well-timed offload putting Tapuai over the line and into the arms of the fans in row one 30 minutes into the game.
But, as in their round 13 clash, Blues lock Chris Lowrey took advantage of a Reds team already eyeing the tunnel, as he darted from the ruck on the half-time buzzer, the conversion narrowing the deficit to 15-7 heading into the break.
The Blues again applied pressure to open the second half with an impressive 50m kick from Luke McAlister keeping it to a five-point ballgame, but mirroring the first half it was Davies who got the breakthrough ten minutes in with another outstanding display of speed, stepping around Benson Stanley and leaving defenders at his heels in a perfect first phase play.
Another penalty conversion for McAlister kept the Blues in touch, but after countless raids on the Blues line, their defence faltered again on the right wing when the Cooper ball passed the hands of Anthony Faingaa to find Davies, who sped for the right corner to secure the Reds first hat-trick in Super Rugby history.
“Against the Cheetahs I scored two tries early on and I dropped one over the line. The boys let me know it as well, so I knew no one had scored three tries for the Reds,” Davies said,
Proving third time lucky, Cooper nailed the kick over the black dot and ensured the breathing space of a 27-13 lead with just over twenty minutes remaining in the must-win contest.
The night continued to spiral for the Blues after Jared Payne spilled the ball just before the line, but the Reds answered back when Adam Wallace-Harrison was denied for losing the ball over the white chalk.
But, a perfectly-struck drop goal from Cooper in the 75th minute took the Reds to the 17-point lead that nailed the Blues’ season shut and capped off a stellar performance for the star flyhalf.
St.George Reds 30 (Rod Davies 3, Ben Tapuai tries; Cooper 2 cons, pen, drop goal) def Blues 13 (Chris Lowrey try; Luke McAllister 2 pen, con)