Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The St.George Queensland Reds have made a welcome return to their winning ways after defeating Australian Conference leaders the ACT Brumbies 20-13 at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
The Reds broke a three-game losing streak and recorded their first ever win over the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium and only their second in Brisbane since beating the ACT-side in 1999 at Ballymore.
The win also sees the Reds winning run at Suncorp Stadium climb to 17 wins from their past 18 games with the Reds now in a position to capture the Rod MacQueen Cup should they be successful in their return stoush against the Brumbies in Canberra on May 26.
"I think we showed a gritty performance which was more like us," captain James Horwill said.
"The last few weeks have been a bit uncharacteristic on our behalf. We knew that and it was something we spoke about during the week. It was all about attitude, turning up and sending a message, especially early on.
"You could see that with the way the boys started in defence getting up off the line."
In front of a strong crowd of 31,479 the Reds held a 14-0 lead at halftime courtesy of a brace of tries to Test backrower Scott Higginbotham, who opened the scoring in the 25th minute and crossed again in the 28th.
Using his fourth player in the No.10 jersey for the season, coach Ewen McKenzie uncovered a bright playmaking talent in debutant Sam Lane, who kicked two conversions and two penalties and also showcased his courage and willingness to back himself in chipping ahead to set up his side's second try.
Lane was impressive in his Queensland and Super Rugby debut with the distance and precision of his powerful left boot, combined with a willingness to take the ball to the line, key contributions in the team's triumph.
"I was a bit nervous to start off but as the game started rolling we started to play to the gameplan," Lane said.
"They wanted me to play within the gameplan but they also said to back my ability. It couldn't have been a better debut."
In his return from a hamstring injury Aidan Toua was a standout in the 56 minutes he earned at outside centre with a bone-crunching tackle on Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg just before halftime a highlight moment from the night.
There were numerous other standouts with captain James Horwill and vice-captain Will Genia producing arguably their best performances of the season while lock Rob Simmons was a menace in disrupting the Brumbies lineout. The tandem act of Beau Robinson and Liam Gill in the backrow was also a major success against the Brumbies physical forwards.
"We've now played five derby games and won four of them. Everyone talks about the conference system so it's important," coach Ewen McKenzie said.
"We've also done all our long distance travel.so we now get a chance to get our routine going week in and week out for the rest of the competition. We get some normality within our lives and can concentrate on getting better."
The match commenced in typically physical fashion with Higginbotham breaking a 20 minute scoring drought with two quick tries.
His first came from a Ben Tapuai break down the right sideline while his second came after flyhalf Lane chipped for himself and grubbered ahead, winger Rod Davies regathering before linking up with a flying Higginbotham on the inside.
When Reds young backrower Gill was sent to the sin bin in the 61st minute, the Brumbies used the opportunity with an extra man to pile on 10 points and set up an exciting finish, trailing by only four points 17-13 courtesy of a try to winger Joe Tomane which was converted by Christian Lealiifano.
However a late penalty to Lane closed out the match for the Reds who will now enjoy the week off with the bye before returning to Suncorp Stadium on Friday 20 April where they will go head-to-head with 2011 South African conference winners the Stormers.
"It's always good going into a bye with a win. You have two weeks to think about it if you don't win," Horwill said.
"We've got five days off now and we will get away. It has come at a good time and hopefully we will get some reinforcements back for our next home game in two weeks."
St.George Queensland Reds 20 (Scott Higginbotham 2 tries; Sam Lane 2 cons, 2 pens) def ACT Brumbies 13 (Joe Tomane try; Matt Toomua con, 2 pens)