BRISBANE, April 23- The Queensland Reds maintained their push for the Super 14 playoffs with another tenacious victory over South African title challengers Western Stormers on Friday.
The Reds moved to third on the standings midway through the 10th round after a gritty 16-13 win over the Stormers for their third straight win.
Queensland have now conquered the top three teams this season — Canterbury Crusaders, Northern Bulls and Stormers — and are looming as genuine contenders for the southern hemisphere provincial championship after years of mediocrity.
Both sides scored a try each in the slogging encounter but flyhalf Quade Cooper’s goalkicking proved the difference with a conversion and three penalties from seven attempts to Peter Grant’s conversion and two penalties.
The Stormers’ losing bonus point was enough for them to take over at the top of the standings on goal difference, with the Crusaders and Bulls still to play their matches this weekend.
"The boys are playing some great rugby at the moment," Reds’ skipper Will Genia said.
"It wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win and our structure paid off as the Stormers feed on continuity."
Queensland followed up their determined 19-12 win over the Bulls the previous week with another wholehearted display, particularly in defence as they kept the big Stormers’ forward pack at bay in the second half.
Giant lock Andries Bekker scored after just three minutes, carrying over two tacklers and stretching his huge frame to plant the ball down for a try.
But indiscretions allowed the Reds to claw their way back with two penalty goals from Cooper for the Reds to trail 7-6 at halftime.
Queensland, roared on by a 30,259 home crowd, hit the front early in the second half from a Cooper penalty goal and former Melbourne Storm rugby league centre Will Chambers won the chase to a Cooper kick directed to the corner to score.
Cooper’s conversion pushed the Reds out to a 16-7 lead after 47 minutes, but the Stormers hit back with consecutive penalties from Grant to trail by three points with 25 minutes left.
The Stormers applied the pressure, bombarding the Reds’ try-line at one stage in over 20 phases but the home defence stood resolute and launched their own counter-attack in the final minutes.
Genia was over the try-line in the last minute but was prevented from grounding the ball by Bryan Habana’s arm as the clock wound down.
"We just couldn’t get going and the conditions were very slippery tonight and the Reds proved to be a very competitive team," the Stormers’ Springbok flanker Schalk Burger said.
It was the Reds’ first win over the Stormers in their last seven meetings and sets them up for next weekend’s Australian derby with the ACT Brumbies in Canberra, while the Stormers return home to face the Crusaders in Cape Town.