An unstoppable scrum and a silky 10-12-15 combination has driven the Queensland Reds to a convincing 32-13 win over the Melbourne Rebels in their final hit-out before Round 1 of the Super Rugby season.
The Rebels could not contain the Reds scrum, which was superb with the starting front row combination of James Slipper, Stephen Moore and Sam Talakai and arguably even better when Sef Fa’agase and Andrew Ready replaced Slipper and Moore.
The Reds backs were fed clean set piece ball time and time again as the pack drew six penalties to one at scrum time.
Both teams suffered from ball handling issues but it was the Reds who found top gear when it was required, as Quade Cooper, Duncan Pai’aua and Karmichael Hunt fed off each other to set up three of the four tries.
The returning brigade of Quade Cooper, Moore, Leroy Houston and Scott Higginbotham were all impressive in their return to Ballymore in a performance that will provide plenty of hope for Reds fans heading into next Friday’s Round 1 clash with the Sharks at Suncorp Stadium.
It took a piece of individual brilliance by Sefa Naivalu and some substandard tackles by Hunt and Nick Frisby to break the deadlock, as Naivalu ran 50m down the right hand sideline to score under the posts at the 11th minute mark.
The Reds hit back through a Cooper penalty goal but a Houston dropped kick off and ensuing offside allowed the Rebels to stretch out to a 10-3 lead thanks to the boot of Jackson Garden-Bachop.
The home side levelled the score at 10-all with some neat passing on the verge of the quarter time break, as Cooper put Hunt through a hole, who then passed inside for Rob Simmons to crash over the line.
The two teams traded one penalty each as the Reds started to assert their dominance at the scrum, earning four penalties in the second quarter.
As the half time siren sounded, Paia’aua showed fantastic composure by picking up a scrappy Frisby pass from a quick tap, drawing two Rebels defenders and throwing a perfectly timed pop pass to put Eto Nabuli over, handing the Reds a 20-13 lead at the main break.
Garden-Bachop missed his second kickable penalty of the night in the opening minutes of the third quarter before the Rebels launched a multi phase attack inside the Reds 22 - Higginbotham earning his stripes as a returning Red with a clean pilfer penalty as Laurie Weeks was tackled centimetres from the try line.
The clock has just ticked past 58 minutes when Cooper, Paia’aua and Hunt launched another counter attack, showing clean hands and perfect passing to send a flying Chris Kuridrani down the left hand sideline to score.
Another 12 minutes had gone when Higginbotham nabbed a five pointer of his own on the same side of the field, in what would be the final scoring act of the match, Kuridrani notching a try assist to add to the try he scored with his first touch of the game.
Speaking after the match, Reds coach Nick Stiles was ecstatic the team had put preparation into practice.
"We've been training so well but just the nerves of game day and how that transfers into a game is something we were unsure of but we came out of that pretty happy," he said.
"I thought we settled in the second 20 minutes and got some continuity and when we did that we scored points."
Tries: Simmons, Kuridrani, Nabuli, Higginbotham Cons: Cooper 2, McIntyre Pens: Cooper 2
Tries: Naivalu, Cons: Garden-Bachop Pens: Garden-Bachop 2