BRISBANE – Quade Cooper spearheaded the Melbourne Rebels to victory over his old club Reds on Saturday as Sonny Bill Williams marked a return to action by steering the Auckland Blues past the Western Stormers.
Fly-half Cooper booted five goals and was instrumental in two tries as the Rebels snapped a two-game losing streak with a thumping 32-13 win in Brisbane.
In Auckland, Williams – who missed last week's Super Rugby round to support fellow Muslims in Christchurch following the terror attack – was at the heart of his team's 24-9 drubbing of the Stormers.
For the experienced Cooper, it was sweet revenge in his first match against the Reds since an acrimonious departure after a falling out with coach Brad Thorn.
Cooper played 118 games for the side and helped deliver their only Super Rugby title in 2011 before being dumped in late 2017.
He played lower-tier Premier Rugby before the Rebels snapped him up this year, and it looks to be the Reds' loss with Cooper excelling this season and calls mounting for him to be recalled by the Wallabies for the World Cup.
"Super proud of the boys, they were able to grind that out in pretty tough conditions. Just happy to get the win," said Rebels skipper Angus Cottrell.
"We were just focusing on a team performance which is what we got," he added when asked about Cooper.
Cooper got the opening points, drilling an easy penalty before Bryce Hegarty matched the feat for the Reds just minutes later.
The Rebels dominated early territory and possession and the inevitable five-pointer finally arrived with Cooper in the thick of the action.
He kicked a high ball to the corner and Jack Maddocks won an aerial battle to get the touchdown two minutes before the break, sending them into half-time 11-6 in front.
A drive over the line by Anaru Rangi provided their second try of the night soon after the restart before a nifty chip from Cooper was chased down by the lightning-quick Maddocks for another.
Taniela Tupou clawed one back for the Reds before Rob Leota sealed a bonus point win with the Rebels' fourth try.
With the match in the balance in Auckland and 15 minutes to play, Williams broke the game open with a trademark miracle pass to put Otere Black over the line.
It opened up an eight-point lead for the Blues, and although they were reduced to 14 men for the final 12 minutes when Tanielu Tale'a was sent off for taking out Dillyn Leyds in the air, the Stormers were unable to make up the deficit.
Instead, knowing they had to take risks to score twice in the closing minutes, the Stormers made errors which allowed Rieko Ioane to score a bonus-point third try for the Blues.
"It doesn't stop there though. We go back to the drawing board on Monday and get ready for the Waratahs," captain Patrick Tuipulotu said, adding that despite the red card he was pleased with his side's discipline. "We kept our cool."
Despite their Springbok-laden pack, the Stormers departed from their usual forward dominated game and attempted to run the ball at every opportunity.
But they were let down by handling errors and had to rely on three penalties by Jean-Luc du Plessis for their points.
The Blues didn't hit the front until the 30-minute mark when Ioane came off his wing to punch through and set Tele'a on a 60-metre run to the line.
Du Plessis narrowed the gap to 10-9 with his third penalty before Williams' pass for Black's try gave the Blues the buffer they needed.AFP