The Queensland Reds have survived a stirring Melbourne Rebels effort and a night of injury carnage to reach their first Super Rugby grand final since 2011.
The Reds beat the gutsy Rebels 25-13 at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night to qualify for next weekend’s Super Rugby AU decider against the Brumbies in Canberra.
But the Queenslanders will be sweating on the fitness of key backline weapons Jordan Petaia (concussion) and Chris Feauai-Sautia (groin), who were both forced off in the first half.
The brave Rebels were also hampered by a host of injuries, with key trio Dane Haylett-Petty (groin), Matt Toomua (groin) and Jordan Uelese (arm) among their casualties.
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The injuries hampered Melbourne’s attempt at a second-half comeback as the Reds steadied when it mattered to secure a three-tries-to-one win in front of 11,607 fans.
The win was Queensland’s sixth straight victory at Suncorp Stadium.
But to win their first title in nine years, they will have to beat the Brumbies at GIO Stadium.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of games, it wasn’t one of our best games but you’re trying to make a grand final – it’s do-or-die,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said.
“The Rebels were hanging in the fight. Sometimes to win those types of games it’s actually a really good development for the guys (when) it’s tight and niggly, and things aren’t going exactly to plan.”
Taniela Tupou tries to barge his way through a Rebels tackle. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Rebels coach Dave Wessels was shattered with the result but also proud of his team’s effort.
“I’m devastated for boys,” Wessels said.
“I thought they played with a lot of courage as they have the whole comp.
“We’ve been scrapping our way through all the time so I’m just incredibly proud of all the guys with their effort.”
Queensland continued its good form early on Saturday night when Petaia scored in the eighth minute after intercepting a pass from Rebels flyhalf Toomua and running 65 metres to score next to the posts.
James O’Connor’s conversion gave the Reds a 7-0 lead.
With the Reds leading 10-3 in the 35th minute after both sides exchanged penalty goals, Melbourne No.8 Isi Naisarani charged down an O’Connor clearing kick but an unfortunate bounce took the ball away from him just as he was poised to gather the rebound and score.
However, the Rebels were finally rewarded for their attacking endeavour on the stroke of halftime winger Marika Koroibete picked up a loose ball from the breakdown, charged through a gaping hole in Queensland’s defensive line and ran 22 metres to score.
Daugunu (centre) celebrates his try. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Toomua’s conversion made it 10-10 at halftime.
The Reds’ poor end to the first half was made worse with the news that Petaia would take no further part in the game, as well as Feauai-Sautia’s game-ending injury.
The Rebels also suffered with captain Haylett-Petty and Toomua both forced off with leg injuries in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
In between, the Reds crossed for their second try of the match through lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto after impressive work in build-up from replacement centre Hunter Paisami and winger Filipo Daugunu.
Injuries continued to hurt the Rebels, with hooker Jordan Uelese forced off using his jersey as a makeshift sling for his arm.
The Reds finally put the game to bed with five minutes to go, when Daugunu was rewarded for another impressive display with a try after a slick inside pass from replacement Bryce Hegarty.
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