The Queensland Reds overcame an unexpectedly stiff challenge from the Melbourne Rebels to snatch a narrow 11-6 victory and maintain their 100 percent winning start to the Super Rugby season on Saturday.
At times it was difficult to tell which team were defending champions and who took the wooden spoon last year as the Rebels belied their underdog status with a battling performance of some character in Brisbane.
Along with a much improved defensive display, the Rebels dominated possession and field position for the first 50 minutes, even if they only had two James O'Connor penalties for a 6-3 lead to show for it.
The Reds finally upped the tempo and got over the try line through winger Dom Shipperley in the 55th minute after stealing Rebels lineout ball, Will Genia showing great patience after the first couple of surges were rebuffed.
The Wallaby scrumhalf showed less patience when he decided to run two eminently kickable penalties over the next five minutes only for the Rebels line to hold, but Mike Harris was called up to convert a third and extend the lead to 11-6.
The scare was not over, however, and O'Connor kicked a penalty to touch deep into the Reds' 22 with three minutes remaining only for replacement home flanker Beau Robinson to snare the lineout ball.
“It shows we've come a long way that we're disappointed with that,” said Rebels captain Gareth Delve. “To push the champions so far in their own stadium shows we're going in the right direction.”
Harris, standing in for the injured Quade Cooper, had missed his first place kick of the season in the first half after 16 successful attempts in the first two victories and missed his third of the night with a long-range effort as time ran out.
“We knew they'd play well,” said Reds skipper James Horwill after a third victory of the season. “In the end we've just got to keep winning, we keep saying that week to week.”
Fullback Kurtley Beale had a fine game on his Rebels debut but he and his fellow marquee signing O'Connor had little time or space to display their attacking skills. – Reuters