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St.George Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper has celebrated his 50th game for Queensland with a thrilling 21-20 victory over the Western Force in round one of Super Rugby at Suncorp Stadium.
The St.George Reds were forced to come back from a 12-6 halftime deficit with hookers Saia Faingaa and James Hanson grabbing five-pointers in the last quarter of the match.
Cooper secured the victory with a clutch conversion in the 75th minute after Hanson drove his way across the line from close range.
The match was also the Queensland debut of St.George Reds flanker Beau Robinson and wing Aidan Toua, both of whom entered the game in the second half.
Despite it being the opening game of the season and played in hot and humid conditions, the St.George Reds showed plenty of mental toughness with their only try conceded a 90m effort by force flyhalf James O’Connor against the run of play.
The talented Force youngster scored all 20 of the Force points with five penalty goals and their sole try.
Head coach Ewen McKenzie said he was happy to walk away with the victory but believed there was plenty of improvement left in the squad.
“We found a way to get there. It was an interesting game and there were two strategies in play, and I guess the scoreline says we overcame (them). But it wasn’t easy by any stretch,” McKenzie said.
“We’ll go back and work on things we didn’t do so well. We had some good things go on but we didn’t sustain enough pressure with the ball. But we outlasted them in the end. A few of our guys that came off the bench were probably the difference.
After 12 months on the sideline with injury captain James Horwill was awarded the Man of the Match award with a strong 80 minute effort.
“It meant a hell of a lot (to be back playing),” Horwill said.
“To lead my State is something I take as a huge honour and to do it on an occasion after Queensland have been through some tough times was pretty special to me.
“I enjoy playing for Queensland and I enjoy being on the field. I want to continue doing it and hopefully continue to get some results.”
The opening of the game was marred by typical early season errors from both teams, with ill-discipline seeing Cooper slot two and Force flyhalf James O’Connor three penalty goals in the opening quarter of the match.
A huge effort from captain James Horwill kept the Force’s lead at 9-6 after wrestling Cameron Shepherd on to his back to hold him up over the line.
The physical contest reached boiling point just before halftime and resulted with Rod Davies receiving a yellow card and O’Connor extending the visitors lead 12-6.
The best Reds chance in the opening 40 minutes came from a deft grubber kick from Cooper although the ball wasn’t able to be gathered and grounded over the line.
While Davies was off the field the St.George Reds managed to narrow the gap to three points thanks to a long range Cooper penalty goal.
The Force continued with their enthusiastic approach throughout the second half but it was the St.George Reds hooker Saia Faingaa who scored the opening try of the match through a beautifully constructed lineout play.
Hanson’s try gave the St.George Reds the lead before they defended valiantly the final five minutes to secure the win.
The St.George Reds play the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday. Before then the QAS Reds 2nd XV will play Samoa at Ballymore on Wednesday night. That game is free entry for all spectators.
St.George Reds 21 (Saia Faingaa, James Hanson tries, Quade Cooper 3 pens, con) def Force 20 (James O’Connor try, James O’Connor 5 pens)
25 FEBRUARY 2017