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The St.George Queensland Reds continue their charge towards the FxPro Super Rugby Finals after recording a gutsy 19-13 victory over the Highlanders in their inaugural Indigenous Round at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
The Reds held off a spirited finish from the Highlanders who threatened to steal the win in the closing minutes of the match after reserve hooker Chris King scored a try to pull the deficit back to six points.
With two minutes on the clock, the visitors were looking to end their season on a high with another try, however strong defence by the Reds on their own line saw the reigning champions repel the desperate Highlanders attack to secure the six-point victory in front of 33,899 fans.
It was a courageous defence display that sets the scene for a blockbuster final round clash against the New South Wales Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium next Saturday, where the Reds will endeavour to win their sixth straight game and qualify for a place in the FxPro Super Rugby Finals Series.
The victory was setup through a second-half try to tighthead prop James Slipper and 14 points through the boot of centre Mike Harris and means the Reds continue to apply pressure on the Australian Conference leading Brumbies.
“It’s all about character at the breakdown contest and in defence. When you are pushed to the limits on your own try line you need to front up, and we did,” captain and scrumhalf Will Genia said.
“We kept fronting up, getting around the corner and putting numbers in there. Our discipline was good and we were all relieved to get that penalty at the end.”
Coach Ewen McKenzie said beating the Highlanders and winning Queensland Rugby’s inaugural Indigenous Round game, which fell during national NAIDOC week festivities, was the main priority for his side.
The Indigenous Round provided an opportunity for the Reds Rugby community to celebrate Australia’s Indigenous culture and heritage while the Reds specially-designed matchday jerseys are being auctioned (http://m.myqpay.com/reds/Bid.aspx) with all proceeds going to support the Reds Indigenous Program.
“The main thing in the end was we won the game. If you win the game, you put pressure on and continue to climb the ladder,” McKenzie said.
“Everyone can be an expert sitting on the sideline but you have got to win the game first. That gives you four points…and you have to get the four points first. We concentrated on that.
“I always figured the (Waratahs) game would count for something, and when I looked at the calendar in the first place, I knew it would be an important game. We’ll look forward to preparing for that game as we always do.”
The Highlanders pressured the Reds at the breakdown throughout the match however flyhalf Quade Cooper showed flashes of his 2011 championship-winning best as he linked with scrumhalf Will Genia to get his side on the front foot.
McKenzie said he was pleased with the way Cooper has recovered from offseason knee surgery and was confident his playmaking number 10 was returning to his best.
“He hasn’t played a lot of football this year but I think he is doing good things out there,” McKenzie said.
“I think he is getting a much better balance than when he was playing six or eight months ago. That’s the maturing of the guy and he has had a lot of time to watch. He is an analytical guy about the game and he does study it and think about it.
“We saw some flashes there of his x-factor and we saw some good quality game management.”
In a try-less first half, the Reds went to the break holding a slim 6-3 lead thanks to the boot of Mike Harris, who finished the night with five from six.
Reds prop James Slipper crashed over in the 57th minute to score the only five-pointer for the Reds to give them a 16-3 lead before a try to Highlanders back-rower Adam Thompson and Chris King closed the gap late in the match.
It was a tight finish although the Reds defence held strong in the dying stages to keep their finals hopes alive in 2012.
Winger Chris F’Sautia was the main injury concern from the match with a hamstring injury while Rob Simmons (cork) and Beau Robinson (ankle) were regarded by McKenzie as less serious.
“Chris has done his other hamstring, which is disappointing, because that moment where he got into space was magic. There’s something special there,” McKenzie said.
“He played with a bung shoulder but fronted every day for training. I was impressed with him this week. For a young guy at 18 he showed a lot of character and that was recognised by the group.
We just want to get his hamstrings right so he can play week in and week out.
“He is a fine player and fine person too. The character he showed is what you want in your group of players. We spoke about it before the game that we would have to defend 8 or 10 phases in a row. It was a good test for us attitudinally and we did enough in the end.
“Beau is showing great courage too. He continues to put his body on the line and in the ideal world he wouldn’t be doing that. He is doing that for the team.”
Tickets for next week’s crucial clash against the Waratahs can be secured through Ticketek - http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=REDS2112.
St.George Queensland Reds 19 (James Slipper try; Mike Harris con, 4 pens) def Highlanders 13 (Adam Thompson, Chris King tries; Michael Delaney pen)
26 MAY 2013
24 MAY 2013