Rugby: Reds down Blues to reach Super 15 final

The Quade Cooper-inspired Queensland Reds closed in on their first Super rugby title by ending the Blues quest for a fourth championship at Suncorp Stadium last night.

The Reds justified their tournament favouritism with an entertaining 30-13 victory featuring a historic hat trick; only the Crusaders stand between Australia's resurgent franchise and their crowning glory at the citadel of Queensland football next Saturday.

Although the state is obsessed with the State of Origin decider on Wednesday, the other rugby code will share top billing next week as head coach Ewen McKenzie also seeks to end his finals heartache.

The World Cup-winning Wallabies prop guided the NSW Waratahs to the 2005 and 2008 deciders in Christchurch, he is now 80 minutes away from being accorded miracle worker status by resurrecting the serial non-achievers.

A fifth placing last season in his first season in charge last year hinted at the recuperative powers of McKenzie and now the Wallabies-laden squad - spearheaded by world class playmaker Cooper - can eclipse the deeds of the 1999 and 2001 vintage who exited at the semifinal stage of the old Super 12.

Seeking to end a sequence of 18 play-offs won the home side, the Blues were unable to defy history and become the first side since the 1999 Crusaders - in Brisbane - to qualify fourth and defeat the top seeds.

The Blues' inability to avenge a 37-31 regular season loss in mid-May meant the Super rugby careers of a host of personnel ended on a forlorn note.

Joe Rokocoko, Luke McAlister, Stephen Brett, Jared Payne and John Afoa were denied a fond farewell thanks to Cooper's intuition and a strong defensive effort.

Cooper was at his mesmerising best - the significant point of difference - as both sides played expansively in perfect conditions.

Rod Davies was the chief beneficiary of his gliding runs and sleight of hand as the wing notched a ground-breaking treble.

Cooper's perfect cut out pass put Davies outside Jared Payne for his double in the 48th minute, a decisive blow after the Blues had narrowed the deficit to five points.

Another sideways jaunt climaxed with Davies, from a standing start, evaded Stephen Brett and Keven Mealamu to cross near the corner flag and claim the Reds first-ever treble in the history of Super rugby.

Davies' incision put the Reds out of reach at 27-13 entering the final quarter and they were able to coast home from there.

Inevitably, the imperious Cooper also proved the catalyst for the Reds' second five-pointer -- a magical 50m run after fielding a Brett clearance featured a fend on the luckless Lachie Munro and a feint past Benson Stanley initiated the Reds second try to Ben Tapuai on the half hour when the second five-eighth wisely ran in support of the Wallabies playmaker.

Five minutes later, Cooper tormented the Blues defence again with another 40m thrust that culminated in an audacious reverse flick pass to the onrushing blindside flanker Scott Higginbotham.

The Blues scrambled but Payne was penalised at the breakdown, prompting South African referee Jonathan Kaplan to issue a general warning to Mealamu before Cooper pushed the advantage to 15.

When the teams last met the Reds surged to a 24-0 lead inside half an hour, however there was no repeat of that onslaught as the Blues dominated territory, possession and the ruck and maul count in the opening half.

The Reds' lineout was also vulnerable but for all their endeavour the Blues had to be content with a soft try to makeshift lock Chris Lowrey who brushed aside feeble defence by Jono Lance before coasting 15m to the posts after the hooter had sounded to trim the Reds lead to 15-7.

Blues head coach Pat Lam's decision to select Munro ahead of Rene Ranger on the left wing backfired before he was pushed away with contemptuous ease by Cooper - in the 12th minute his pass bound for Luke Braid was intercepted by the Reds' quickest back, Rod Davies, who was never threatened on a 65m run to the posts.

The only blight on Cooper's man-of-match performance was with the kicking tee. He missed four attempts though that inaccuracy proved irrelevant.

Munro's ordeal ended shortly before halftime when he retired with a hip injury; he was joined by Payne in having a match he would rather forget. The fullback's chip inside the Blues' 22m zone set Davies' third try in motion and he also shelled a regulation pass with the line open after a Ranger bust.

Cooper appropriately had the final say, potting a 75th minute dropped goal to send the bulk of the 44,940 crowd into rapture.

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