It has been a season of broken records for the Reds: first wins in Canberra and Perth, first unbeaten South African tour since 2004, first time beating the Waratahs since the same year, longest winning streak (seven games) in the professional era, first time on top of the table since 1999, biggest Super crowd ever in Australia, and now, their first finals appearance since 2001.
Would tonight be the first time they actually win a finals match since the start of Super 12? The bookies had them as slight favourites, and everyone was confident, but as Stephen Brett kicked off, there was only 80 minutes standing in their way (ding – cliché count…).
The kick off went straight to Ben Tapuai who had his clearing kick charged down. Hopefully that would have served to put their mind on the game. There was a bit of back and forth, with the Reds making a couple of breakouts. Will Genia used a burst of space to get away once, then it was Rod Davies’ pure pace before passing to Jono Lance who was pulled down inches from the line by a try-saver from Joe Rokocoko. The resulting ruck gave Quade the first shot of the game. He pushed it wide.
Rod Davies had the audacity to attempt an intercept about 65 metres out. After a short juggle he took it cleanly and with no defenders back he was in the clear for a try under the black dot. Quade had no troubles adding the extras.
The parry and thrust continued, in what was a willing contest to this point, with only a silly penalty releasing the pressure as the Blues pushed hard at the Reds’ line. Radike Samo left the field with a neck injury, taking with him his hard tackling and a good line-out option. Jake Shatz replaced him. While that was happening, Quade had another penalty shot, and pushed this wide also.
From a kick return, Quade Cooper did what only Quade Cooper can do. He put a massive palm-off on Lachie Munro, then stepped five players before flicking the pass while he was going down to a chasing Ben Tapuai who was clear and got the try. The conversion was from Quade’s weak side and he failed to add the extras.
The Reds, and Quade, were growing in confidence and Quade tried the same move again shortly after the restart. This time instead of a fast back, he found Higginbotham. The big fella has some pace, but there was too far to go with too many defenders to beat and it wasn’t to be.
As the Reds heard the hooter and they could taste the oranges. As they looked to the tunnel, the Blues struck. Chris Lowrt collected a neat little pass from the ruck and ran through unmarked. With that, they hit the sheds.
In what was sure to be a massive half of football, Quade kicked off for the second half. The teams picked up where they left off, both attacking hard and coming unstuck with little errors. One of those errors gave the Blues a shot from 50-plus; Luke McAlister took the shot and nailed it.
Shortly after the restart, the Reds earned a line-out from about 20 metres out. They worked a lovely set move that saw Rod Davies strap on his jet shoes and in he went. Quade’s kicking yips continued and he left more points unscored.
Luke McAlister earned a reply with another penalty, which he kicked easily. The points difference was back to a converted try.
Jared Payne then put a chip kick in after the ball was turned over from the Reds attacking hard on the line. Instead of this relieving the pressure, the Reds pounced. Some quick hands saw the ball in Rod Davies’s hands and he was quickly over for his third. Incidentally, that was the first hat trick scored by a Reds player ever. No, not this year, Ever. Quade added the extras.
The Blues were clearly playing catch-up now, turning down an easy penalty shot to go for a line-out. They won the line-out, but a couple of phases later they were pinged for not releasing; again, silly errors releasing the pressure. The Blues were not perturbed though, and continued to push. Rene Ranger made a great break and on the pass, Jared Payne fumbled the ball and wasn’t able to control it, knocking it on.
The Reds then hit the attack. Following some strong ruck work, playing with the advantage, Adam Wallace-Harrison lunged for the line. Unfortunately some wily defending saw the ball come loose before he could put it down. Shortly after the resulting scrum, the Reds secured the ball and it was passed back to Quade in the pocket where he calmly slotted the drop goal.
As the hooter sounded, the Blues looked to switch on again, but a forward pass summed up their game.
The Super Rugby Final is coming to Brisbane.
Reds 30 (Try: Davies (3), Tapuai Con: Cooper 2/4 Pen: Cooper 1/3 DG: Cooper 1/1) defeated Blues 13 (Try: Lowry Con: Brett 1/1 Pen: McAlister 2/2)
Man of the Match: Quade Cooper
Crowd: 44 940