Rampant Reds tame Lions
Reigning champions earn bonus-point victory to boost finals hopes
Last Updated: 19/05/12 2:38pm
Reigning champions Queensland Reds boosted their hopes of sneaking into the Super Rugby finals with a 34-20 victory over the Lions on Saturday.
Elton Jantjies kicked the Lions into a 6-0 early lead but Liam Gill, Saia Faingaa, Chris Feauai-Sautia and Will Genia ran in tries as the hosts scored 34 unanswered points before the visitors replied with consolation touchdowns from Martin Bezuidenhout and Jaco Kriel.
Bolstered by the return from injury of superstar Quade Cooper, the Reds started slowly but they secured the only try of the first half through back-rower Gill to take a 13-6 lead into the break.
Queensland then crossed three times in the opening 15 minutes of the second half to secure the all-important bonus point and virtually seal the contest before taking their foot off the accelerator in the final stages against a Lions side that never gave up.
All eyes were on Cooper, who was playing his first game of rugby in seven months after suffering a serious knee injury during last year's World Cup in New Zealand.
The Wallaby fly-half was replaced at half-time as a precautionary measure but was solid in his time on the park, showing the 31,118-strong Suncorp Stadium crowd glimpses of his best.
The Reds now move up to 36 points in the Super Rugby table, within striking distance of the teams vying for wildcard spots.
They head to Canberra next Saturday to take on the Australian-conference leading Brumbies in a game that could define their season.
The Lions dominated the early play and they were first to put points on the scoreboard through Jantjies, who landed a simple 10th-minute penalty goal to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
A mix-up under the high ball by Reds duo Cooper and skipper James Horwill resulted in the ball going to ground and being picked up in an offside position.
This handed Jantjies the opportunity to test his radar from a far more difficult angle and he obliged to give the Lions a 6-0 lead after 17 minutes.
But a Cooper burst soon after put the Reds on the front foot for the first time in the match.
They maintained control of the play for Gill to eventually burrow over off the ruck following a strong run toward the posts from Rebels-bound team-mate Scott Higginbotham.
Centre Mike Harris added the easy conversion and was then on hand to land a 25th-minute penalty and give the Reds a 10-6 lead.
Harris' bid to retain the kicking duties in the presence of the returning Cooper was in full swing a few minutes later when he sent a 44-metre penalty sailing through the sticks to extend the Reds' lead to seven points.
The Reds blew an ideal opportunity to take a more comfortable advantage into half-time when Harris spilt a Cooper pass with the try-line staring him in the face.
The second half began poorly for the Lions, with second-rower Franco van der Merwe yellow-carded for a professional foul and Reds hooker Saia Faingaa scoring just moments later.
Debutant Feauai-Sautia sent the crowd into raptures 49 minutes in when he started and finished a try with his first touches in Super Rugby.
Genia, who provided the assist for Feauai-Sautia, did it all himself just before the hour from 60 metres out to secure the Reds the bonus point.
And Harris landed his fourth conversion of the night to send the hosts out to a 34-6 lead.
The Reds clocked off in the final stages, allowing the lowly Lions to post a couple of consolation five-pointers through Bezuidenhout and Kriel.