Victory glosses over a mixed game by Reds star in a head-to-head duel with James O’Connor.
Flyhalf Quade Cooper, vying for a spot in the Wallaby side to face the Lions, had a mixed night Saturday, but eventually scored the clinching try as the Queensland Reds won a 33-20 bonus-point victory over the Melbourne Rebels in Brisbane.
For an hour Cooper could do little right in his head-to-head battle with James O’Connor for the flyhalf place, conceding two tries when his clearing kicks were charged down and missing two easy shots at goal.
But the Reds came from 20-18 down, scoring two tries in the final 11 minutes.
And Cooper gave his chances of a spot in this month’s Test series against the British and Irish Lions a boost when he reached out and scored with a one-handed put down on the try-line in the 69th minute.
That put the Reds eight points ahead and Will Genia made sure of victory when he put fullback Ben Lucas over wide out in the final minute for the team’s fourth try and a bonus point.
The five competition points lifted the 2011 champions to fourth overall in the tournament standings and just four points behind the ACT Brumbies in the Australian conference with two matches to go before next month’s playoffs.
The Rebels, coming off back-to-back wins over the Western Stormers and NSW Waratahs, looked well placed for their first win over the Reds in six encounters with a committed opening half.
They put the Reds scrum under immense pressure before Luke Morahan seized on to a wayward pass from Rory Sidey to score an intercept try from half-way in the 31st minute.
But two bloopers from Cooper gave the Rebels two converted tries to open-side flanker Scott Fuglistaller and centre Sidey to lead 17-13 at half-time.
O’Connor kicked the Rebels to a 20-13 advantage shortly after half-time before Rebels skipper and Wallaby backrower Scott Higginbotham left the field with a shoulder injury after coming off second best tackling Beau Robinson.
The Reds pulled within two points of the Rebels with a pushover try from Jake Schatz near the hour.
Melbourne were running out of steam as the Reds finished the stronger to take victory.
“It was a big effort as we had a disrupted week coming back from South Africa but the boys showed a lot of character to stick out some tough moments, not everything went our way especially in the first half,” Reds skipper James Horwill said.
“Our bench guys made a big impact in the last 20 minutes and we just had to hold on to the ball which we weren’t doing earlier in the game.”
The Rebels again showed a great improvement in their play from earlier in the season.
“We’ve been building really well and for an hour tonight we were the better team,” Rebels’ Welsh forward Gareth Delve said.
“A couple of injuries, the Reds lifted their game and they had a lot of impact off the bench and in the end we just slipped away.”
The Reds are guaranteed four competition points from a bye next weekend, while the Rebels take on the Brumbies in Canberra.