Rogue Wallaby Quade Cooper and his Reds teammates sent a clear message to Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, overcoming the odds to beat the defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs, 31-23 in Hamiton in a pulsating game on Saturday.
Cooper’s famous run-in with Deans last year, where the fall-out was fuelled by his comments that the Wallaby camp was “toxic” were taken a step further this week when Deans left the playmaker out of a training squad for the upcoming British and Irish Lions series.
But the flyhalf responded in the only way he could, playing a vital part in his team’s win away from home, scoring 16 points – including a try – as they dismantled the Chiefs' unbeatable aura.
The statement was not only Cooper’s, but also from the rest of the Reds players, as they produced a physical and clinical performance, stopping the much-vaunted Chiefs attack and using the ball they had well to score a bonus-point win.
The Chiefs had more than enough chances to win the game, but made way too many errors on attack and found their all-out attack profile was more than matched by the visitors on the night.
In this, the game produced some spectacular attacking play, and underlined both teams' desire to make it to the playoffs later this season.
Much of the Chiefs' night could be summed up in the way the game started. All of the attacking was done by the Chiefs for the opening six minutes. All of it until Aaron Cruden threw a pass that was perfectly intercepted by speedster Rod Davies, who sprinted 40 metres to open the scoring.
But the Chiefs, with so much ball, weren’t going to lie down for the opposition, and after a penalty to put them on the board, fullback Gareth Anscombe spotted a gap on the outside and motored through, passing the ball inside to midfielder Bundee Aki for the score.
The Reds took the lead again, this time using their pack to monster over the line from a lineout drive, with Jake Schatz coming out with the ball to put his team into a 14-10 halftime lead.
The second half saw Anscombe reduce the deficit to one point with an early penalty, but it wasn’t for long as the Reds turned defence into attack once more, and Cooper saw a gap close to the line to dance his way over and score.
Things went truly south as the Chiefs tried to run themselves out of trouble in their own 22, turned the ball over and Will Genia sent out a perfect pass to Davies, who scooted through on the sideline for his second try.
With Anscombe and Cooper adding penalties, the Chiefs needed something special in the last 20 minutes to get them in with a shout, and it came in the form of Patrick Osborne, who reinvigorated their attack with his incisive runs from the back.
After threatening a few times, Osborne eventually broke through to score, giving his side some hope but still eight points adrift.
The Chiefs tried everything they could to get back into the game, but their hands and some wayward tactical kicking let them down as the clock counted down. The Reds showed tenacity in defence, even though they lost Anthony Faiinga’a to a yellow card late in the game.
In the end though, the Reds had too much resolve, and extended their winning run against the defending champions to five years, having won since 2009.
The win was a healthy reminder the Reds are still contenders, and the Chiefs, well, they’re not as invincible as they look at times.
Chiefs – Try: Bundee Aki, Patrick Osborne. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (2). Penalties: Anscombe (3).
Reds– Tries: Rod Davies (2), Jake Schatz, Quade Cooper. Conversions: Quade Cooper (4). Penalties: Cooper (2)