The St. George Queensland Reds have defeated the Western Force in a 31-24 thriller to keep their unbeaten start to the Vodafone Super Rugby AU season in tact.
Queensland rallied from 14-nil down in as many minutes to lead 21-19 at the half-time break.
A 69th minute yellow card to Queensland centre Hunter Paisami threatened to let the Force back into the game but James O’Connor had other ideas, slotting drop goal to seal the win in the 79th minute.
Reds head coach Brad Thorn said: “They’re a tight group and the love the jersey - they know what it demands. They genuinely care about each other and they care about what we’re trying to achieve.
“It’s a great quality because you can coach the skills but the stuff that’s inside of that group – you can’t coach that.
“You take the win tonight but there’s so much room to improve in and that’s exciting. There’s a lot more to come," said Thorn.
The Western Force opened the scoring in the 11th minute, seizing the advantage from a Reds knock-on to catch the defence unawares with a try to fullback Jack McGregor, converted by Ian Prior.
Force flyhalf Jono Lance set the visitors back in attack three minutes later with a chip-kick bouncing kindly for centre Marcel Brache, who sent the ball wide to Byron Ralston for a 14th minute try, again converted by Prior.
Queensland wingers Filipo Daugunu and Chris Feauai-Sautia arrested the freefall with powerful carries, setting the Reds on the front foot in the 19th minute.
The retreating Force defence failed to match Queensland’s numbers on the left wing as James O’Connor found an unmarked Brandon Paenga-Amosa for a try in reply.
O’Connor’s conversion cut the Force lead to 14-7.
Queensland’s fightback continued in the 22nd minute when a Hamish Stewart short-ball found a charging Hunter Paisami on a scything running line.
Paisami’s run split the defence for Jock Campbell to run in a simple try, his 4th from 19 games in Reds colours to level the game.
A successful 50-22 kick from O’Connor put Queensland on the front foot again, with excellent field position converted into points by prop Taniela Tupou for the go-ahead score.
O’Connor’s third conversion gave Queensland to a 21-14 lead.
The Force would close the gap in the 37th minute when winger Byron Ralston notched a try-saving intercept, running away for his double on the stroke of half-time.
Daugunu charged down the conversion attempt to preserve a 21-19 lead at the break.
The Fijian flyer was rewarded for his defensive effort with a try in the 45 minute, his third in three games.
Queensland were consistently frustrated by the Western Force for the remainder of the half.
Force hooker Andrew Ready scored a rolling maul try to close the game to 28-24, following a missed conversion from Lance.
O'Connor stepped up to convert a drop goal to end the Force comeback and seal the win for Queensland and preserve an undefeated start to Super Rugby AU.