The Rebels cemented their place at the top of the Australian conference with a gritty 30-24 win over the Reds.
Here’s what we’re talking about after the match.
1. Can the Rebels win without Quade Cooper?
Cooper suffered a nasty concussion early in the second half after getting is head in an awkward position while tackling Reds captain Samu Kerevi.
The flyhalf lay prone on the ground for several minutes and while he walked from the ground for an HIA, did not return to the match and will have to pass strict concussion protocols if he is to play against the Bulls next week.
Cooper has carried a heavy workload in his first season back in Super Rugby following his exile to clubland in Brisbane last year and has been one of the drivers of the Rebels’ success. Reece Hodge filled the void well for the remainder of the match and shapes as the likely replacement if Cooper is sidelined next week.
But the former Red has been a talisman for the Rebels this season and his combination with Will Genia has been a matchwinner for the Melbourne side.
2. Rebels continue to be their own worst enemies
The Rebels halted a run of three successive losses with their win against the Reds but they continued another unwanted statistic after again blowing opportunities when seemingly in control of the game. While they missed 18 tackles and conceded 11 turnovers, the Reds were as bad and unable to capitalise on the opportunities presented to them.
The Rebels have owned up to not being in the physical contest at times this season and while there will be plenty of touches they will be unhappy with when they review this game, their fight cannot be questioned. The scrum’s heave to overcome a baying Reds pack metres out from their tryline with the match on the line changed momentum late in the game and snuffed out the visitors’ chances of a win.
They need to maintain the rage against the Bulls next week after a poor recent run against South African sides.
3. Has discipline become a problem for the Reds?
The Reds will be left to rue the two yellow cards they earnt during the match, with the Rebels scoring three of their four tries with Reds players in the sin bin or just returning to the field. Samu Kerevi’s mistimed jump when contesting a bomb was clumsy but Scott Higginbotham’s yellow card came with the Reds unable to adjust despite several warnings from referee Angus Gardner.
After Gardner handed out six cards in the Reds’ clash against the Sunwolves last week, they had to know he was not bluffing when he threatened to march players. The cards come on the back of Harry Hockings’ red card and three-week suspension last week and cruelled any chance the Reds had of taking the conference lead.
Their temperament will need to be better against the Waratahs next week if they are to keep their now slim finals hopes alive.
4. Next three weeks crucial for Rebels
The Rebels’ season could be decided in the next three weeks as they face their South African demons before taking on conference games away and at home.
The physical South African sides have been the Rebels’ kryptonite this season and they need to overcome the Bulls at home next week if they are to remain atop the Aussie conference. But the job still won’t be done.
Their results in consecutive conference games – against a Sunwolves side that will be desperate to prove themselves in Tokyo as their Super Rugby story nears an end and then the Waratahs at home – will likely shape their season and determine whether they can become finalists for the first time.
5. Reds not giving up hope yet
A penalty after the hooter secured a crucial bonus point for the Reds, who have not yet given up on their finals hopes, despite missing the chance to leapfrog the Rebels at the top of the Aussie conference.
With five games still to go, Brad Thorn is not giving up on the chance of his side getting on a roll. But it won’t be easy.
For every good thing they do, the Reds match it with a lack of discipline, sloppy skill or poor game management. And with inspirational captain Samu Kerevi still to be rested, they will be unable to field their best team every week.
Young gun Isaac Lucas again showed his worth when he came on in place of the injured Hamish Stewart. But he is slated to head into camp with the Junior Wallabies next week and is likely to have played his final game of the season.
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