Wallabies five-eighth Quade Cooper is set to miss next month’s Test series against France after suffering a serious shoulder injury in Queensland’s 30-27 loss to the Melbourne Rebels.
The Rebels controversially clinched their first Super Rugby win over the Reds in their four-season history with a late penalty reversal that saw Ed O’Donoghue red-carded for eye-gouging in Brisbane.
Television match official Steve Lescinski overruled referee Steve Walsh’s penalty when he detected O’Donoghue’s hands on the eyes of Rebels skipper Scott Higginbotham.
Jason Woodward duly kicked the three-pointer to break the deadlock, much to the chagrin of Reds captain James Horwill who claimed O’Donoghue was reacting to a headbutt in his scuffle with Higginbotham.
“In the end, once again we were robbed by a stupid refereeing decision,” a fuming Horwill told Fox Sports.
It was the Reds’ sixth straight loss, their worst streak since 2008, and fourth on the trot at their former fortress.
But rubbing salt into deep wounds in the spiteful yet entertaining affair was the injury to their star playmaker.
Cooper is facing a month on the sidelines after being diagnosed with a grade three AC separation from a jolting hit on his left shoulder just after setting up an early try to Mike Harris.
With Test coach Ewen McKenzie to name his 32-man on Thursday, the timing couldn’t be worse for Cooper, who was likely to start in the first Test on June 7.
The 50-Test flyhalf was on the field for just eight minutes before landing heavily on his shoulder joint in a heavy tackle by Rebels pair Laurie Weeks and Tom Kingston.
Although Higginbotham admitted it was disappointing to see the result decided in the manner it was, the Rebels deserved victory.
With halfback Luke Burgess a two-try hero before suffering a leg injury, they were more clinical in attack and appeared to have the match parcelled up in the second half.
It was Cooper’s No.10 replacement, Ben Lucas, who put the Reds back into the contest at 24-all with a 67th minute try.
Both sides then traded penalty goals before the Higginbotham-O’Donoghue scuffle, which Walsh let go until Rebels flanker Sean McMahon was penalised for being the third man in.
The Rebels produced the try of the match in the first half when a Cadeyrn Neville turnover on Lucas was the spark for a scintillating 60m counter-attack which finished with Woodward sending Kingston over out wide.
Reds coach Richard Graham had further cause to rue more terrible defence on the half-hour mark when Burgess brushed off four flimsy tackle attempts to score.
Horwill was still livid at the official post-match press conference, claiming constant TMO stoppages and rulings were “ruining Super Rugby”.
“I have played more than 150 games of professional rugby and I have never ever ever seen that happen before,” he said of the late TMO overrule, coming after the Reds had thrown into a lineout from the late penalty.
“It’s got beyond a joke.”
Horwill said O’Donoghue gave Higginbotham a facial after being headbutted and had no intention of gouging.
“I think it was pretty clear there was a clash of heads,” he said.
“Higgers hasn’t got a scratch on him.
“Higgers was as surprised as anyone at the penalty.”
But Rebels coach Tony Mcgahan said he was thankful Lescinski made the bold call because it was the right decision.
“Anything around the head is a sacrosanct area, that’s what we are told by referees,” Rebels flanker Scott Fuglistaller said.
Burgess finished with a knee injury while the Reds lost prop Ben Daley early and he was sent to hospital with a dislocated thumb.