The Queensland Reds will take on the Brumbies in the Super Rugby AU final on September 19 after defeating the Melbourne Rebels 25-13 in Brisbane on Saturday night.
Injury hit and playing their first final in seven years, Brad Thorn’s Reds were forced to dig deep as the Rebels threw everything at their domestic opponents.
The massive tight-head prop burst onto a beautiful inside ball from versatile utility back Bryce Hegarty and with the tryline in sight passed to his unmarked winger on the outside Filipo Daugunu who dived over to score.
It was the Reds’ first home final since 2012 and well and truly announced their return as heavyweights of Australian rugby after a long lean and painful period.
Thorn has turned a baby Reds side into one of the most exciting Australian Super Rugby sides this decade.
« We’ve given ourselves a chance, which is all we wanted from tonight, » captain Liam Wright said.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie will announce his squad for the Bledisloe Cup series on Sunday and the Reds can expect to have upwards of a dozen players in his squad.
One man that will certainly feature for the first time is Daugunu, who was the Reds’ best.
The flying winger came up with a number of crucial breakdown penalty wins and was lethal in attack.
Locked at 10-10 at half-time, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto’s try in the 44th minute proved pivotal for the Reds and allowed them to control the momentum of the second half.
The Reds will be sweating on a couple of key players, with tryscorer Jordan Petaia and winger Chris Feauai-Sautia both forced off in the first half with injuries.
Both men, particularly Petaia, will be crucial for the Reds if they are to go down to Canberra next weekend and beat the minor premiers.
« It takes a whole squad effort, those finishers really stepped up and did their job, as we knew they would, » Wright added.
« We knew it would go deep in the game and our guys would come on and do a job for us. »
The Rebels weren’t helped either by injuries, with fullback Dane Haylett-Petty (groin) and playmaker Matt To’omua (groin) forced from the field early in the second half.
They were joined on the sidelines by hooker Jordan Uelese, who left the field a shattered man as he nursed his right-arm.
Rebel Trevor Hosea is another who can expect a call up to the Wallabies squad, with the 20-year-old lock producing yet another phenomenal effort in tight.
« Credit to the Reds. That first half was fast, we had our opportunities and didn’t quite take them and then the momentum swung and they were able to close it out, » captain Haylett-Petty said.
After scraping into the finals last weekend, it was a starkly different looking Rebels side that started against the Reds.
Initially it worked, but then 20-year-old sensation Petaia intercepted a pass from To’omua and raced 60 metres to score the opening try.
Petaia almost grabbed a second shortly after as he attempted to reel in a clever left-foot kick from O’Connor just metres short of the line, but couldn’t control the ball under pressure from Reece Hodge.
A long-range penalty from O’Connor saw the Reds regain their converted try lead after 25 minutes.
O’Connor then almost scored as he dummied on the Rebels’ 10 metre line and broke the line, but was reeled in just short of the line.
It was then that the momentum turned and coincided with Petaia leaving the field because of a head knock.
Eventually the pressure told as Koroibete pounced at the base of the ruck, picking up the ball after some exceptional work from Brad Wilkin and scored untouched from 22 metres out. To’omua’s conversion leveled the scores at 10-10.
The Reds made the perfect start to the second half, with Salakaia-Loto scoring out wide after some exceptional lead up play by halfback Tate McDermott and replacement centre Hunter Paisami.
The Reds almost had another as McDermott fooled the Rebels on his side of halfway just like Will Genia did against the Crusaders during their 2011 triumph over the Crusaders, but after dummying and going himself he kicked the ball ahead for his teammate out wide but it ran dead in goal.
The missed opportunity looked like it could come back to bite them, especially when Reece Hodge landed a penalty to cut the score to 17-13.
O’Connor then banged over a penalty midway through the second half to give the Reds some breathing space.
The loss of To’omua midway through the second half was a massive blow for the Rebels’ hopes of mounting a comeback. That hoped turned to dust late in the match when Billy Meakes’ pass floated forward and cost Koroibete his second try.
Not for the first time in 2020 the Reds made the most of their chances and Daugunu’s try with five minutes left sealed the deal.
QUEENSLAND REDS 25 (Petaia, Salakaia-Loto, Daugunu tries; O’Connor 2 con; O’Connor 2 pen) bt MELBOURNE REBELS 13 (Koroibete try; To’omua con; To’omua pen; Hodge pen)
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