RUGBY UNION: Quade Cooper was sent off for a high tackle but worse may still be to come after the Queensland Reds were caned 44-14 by the rampant Lions in Johannesburg early today (AEST).
The experienced Wallaby's poor record at the judiciary, especially for tackles gone wrong, means the team's top playmaker is likely to be rubbed out for the equally tough clash against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Sunday.
The Reds will certainly be without skipper James Slipper. The stalwart 86-Test prop's season for the Reds and the Wallabies is over if a suspected torn left achilles is confirmed.
Slipper collapsed to the turf as if hit by a sniper's bullet after 29 minutes when turning quickly but routinely at the front of a lineout. He was in instant distress, was helped off by two Reds medics and manfully conducted his post-match interview on crutches.
"I've either a snapped achilles or torn a calf ... I don't really want to know to be honest," Slipper said when interviewed on field by South African broadcasters SuperSport.
The Reds scrum was severely destabilised by Slipper's loss with rookie replacement prop Markus Vanzati bearing the brunt of the Lions focus.
What had been a tight 7-0 edge to the Lions over a seesawing opening 29 minutes became a blowout.
The Reds played without Cooper for the final 35 minutes after he made a committed yet high, neck-wrapping tackle on Rohan Janse van Rensburg when vainly trying to stop the bullocking 108kg Lions centre from crashing over from point-blank range for 20-0.
Kiwi referee Mike Fraser was blunt with his call as he dealt Cooper the bad news: "Direct contact with the head with force ... red card."
The playmaker's exit came just a minute after a yellow card on winger Eto Nabuli, for holding down a rival when the Lions were on full attack, which meant the Reds played with just 13 men for nearly nine minutes.
"We were pretty much humbled," Slipper said when giving full credit to the Lions.
"Discipline has got to be one area (where the Reds fell down). We got a couple of cards, the set piece was not really functioning and it's hard to win games under that pressure," Slipper said.
Young winger Izaia Perese bowled over a Lions prop with a super tackle typical of the Reds early physicality and he turned flanker Jaco Kriel with a super try-saver over the line to prevent a grounding after 10 minutes.
The idea of grubber kicks to stall the Lions rushing defence may have seemed a good idea pre-match but the execution was rubbish.
George Smith dabbed one into the arms of a Lions player and fellow backrower Scott Higginbotham ruined a rare six-phase build-up of pressure in the second half with a grubber that Lions winger Courtnall Skosan turned into an 80m touchdown for one of his four tries.
The impressive Janse van Rensburg burst through in midfield to set up the Lions' opening try after 18 minutes for the 7-0 start.
The Reds rued not being able to convert any of their first half opportunities into points and such ragged moments were a big part of their downfall.
The Reds sit 1-3 and their much-hoped for revival is still without the victories to back up the hard work off the field.
At the 32-minute mark, the Reds did produce a strong 5m attacking scrum but centre Samu Kerevi had the ball jolted loose in a two-man tackle when he charged at the line off a short pass from halfback Nick Frisby.
The Lions marched the ensuing scrum for a penalty and experienced Test hooker Stephen Moore was brought on to replace Andrew Ready shortly after.
Vanzati was penalised at the 37-minute mark for a scrum going down on the Reds' own feed close to their line.
The ruthless Lions kicked to touch and backrower Jaco Kriel plunged over for 15-0 from the rolling maul off the lineout.
The Lions, beaten finalists last year, walloped the Waratahs 55-36 earlier in the season and their class, physicality and running game suggests they are top four material again.
The Reds' young replacements stepped up with some fine yet sporadic moments in the second half.
While he had scrum issues, Vanzati had a powerful presence around the field with his willing hit-ups and several excellent tackles.
Halfback James Tuttle was energetic, prop Taniela Tupou made several strong leg-driving charges and replacement flyhalf Jake McIntyre performed solidly while marshalling just 14 men.
It was McIntyre who laid on the neat inside ball for Karmichael Hunt that finally put the Reds on the board with a Duncan Paia'aua try at the 67-minute mark.
Tupou bullocked over himself with three minutes to play.
LIONS 44 (C Skosan 4, J Kriel, R Janse van Rensburg, M Marx tries; E Jantjies 2 conv, pen goal, A Coetzee con) bt REDS 14 (D Paia'aua, T Tupou tries; J McIntyre 2 conv)
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.