Queensland Reds keep finals hopes alive with thrilling win
THE desperate Reds finally shed their damning reputation as pushovers in interstate derbies with a last-gasp victory in Melbourne that gives their finals dream a faint heartbeat.
A Samu Kerevi try with less than two minutes left on the clock was the tie-breaker for a 29-24 win against a Melbourne Rebels side which rallied like they were playing for the club's future.
The Rebels were, but so were the Reds playing for their season.
The bonus point win from the five tries-to-two result jumps the Reds (16 points from 11 games) ahead of the NSW Waratahs (14 from 10) and within striking distance of the Brumbies (19 from 10) at the top of the Australian Conference.
The mental victory was significant on another level. It snapped two of Super Rugby's most cringe-worthy streaks, a 0-10 run against Australian rivals over the past two seasons and 13 straight losses on the road.
Tony Abbott was still Prime Minister when the Reds last beat an Australian rival in May, 2015.
No.8 Scott Higginbotham was hero and almost villain in the pulsating final stages.
Higginbotham had earlier given the Reds their 12-point lead when dashing over for a record 10th try at the venue to capitalise on woeful a Marika Koroibete clearing kick hacked to midfield.
But the Rebels retrieved the 24-12 deficit when Koroibete dived over in the corner in the 70th minute as if still finishing like a dynamo for the Melbourne Storm.
With scores tied and five minutes to play, a Nick Frisby crosskick seemed to land perfectly in the arms of Higginbotham.
Instead, of crashing to the turf for the match-clinching try, he spilt the ball like Herschelle Gibbs did when a cricket World Cup was once on the line.
Thankfully, the Reds had another chance and Kerevi's last surge of a massive 12-run, 157m game stole the night at AAMI Park.
Kerevi, winger Eto Nabuli, Higginbotham, flanker George Smith and hooker Stephen Moore were excellent for the Reds while centre Tom English and flanker Will Miller stood out for the vanquished.
The first minutes of the season from flanker Sean McMahon was worth waiting for because his leg-drive through contact gave the Rebels real momentum when he came on for the second half.
The Reds led 17-9 at halftime with the only three tries on the board but were also their own worst enemies.
They conceded 15 turnovers in that 40 minutes of rugby, including four sloppy kick-off receptions that the Rebels regathered.
When the Reds did sustain the pressure, their extra firepower was telling.
A neat pop ball from Higginbotham and Quade Cooper's cutout pass put the momentum into the initial Kerevi try.
A Cooper loop around George Smith was at the heart of a sweeping raid for winger Eto Nabuli's eighth try of the year and a well-executed Stephen Moore special finished off a mauling drive from a lineout.
In between those high moments, lineouts were lost, the Rebels ferociously poached ball at the breakdown and coach Nick Stiles grounded down another tooth while lamenting poor ball security.
For the third time in two games, Cooper grabbed opponents in tackles, appeared to be draped over them like an overcoat and was shrugged off.
Above all that, the willpower of the Reds was a standout trait. With four games to play, they still have a shot at playing finals but must beat the Western Force and Brumbies on the run home.
REDS 29 (S Kerevi 2, E Nabuli, S Moore, S Higginbotham tries: Q Cooper 2 conv) bt REBELS 24 (W Miller, M Koroibete tries; R Hodge conv, 4 pen goals)