Reds 17
Crusaders 16

A last-minute penalty by Quade Cooper turned the mercurial Wallabies playmaker from potential villain to hero as the Reds underscored their Super rugby credentials with a pulsating 17-16 victory over the Crusaders before a record-breaking crowd at Suncorp Stadium.

Cooper calmly nailed a penalty from in front of the posts after Crusaders captain Richie McCaw was penalised at the breakdown - the final act of his running battle with Australian referee Stu Dickinson.

Billed as a mini-test match, the round 15 clash between the competition leaders and the seven-time champions met expectations as Queensland moved a step closer to securing home advantage for the playoffs.

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Super 15 standings

The Reds' 12th successive victory at Suncorp produced a four-point buffer over the second-placed Blues (54) with three regular season rounds remaining, while the Crusaders remain in fourth spot on 49 points after having to settle for a bonus point ahead of next weekend's bye.

Queensland, who host the struggling Brumbies next Saturday night, extended their recent dominance over the Crusaders, following up their 41-20 win in round two last year by orchestrating a late comeback.

The Crusaders reclaimed the lead with seven minutes remaining when Daniel Carter converted an easy penalty after they laid siege to the Reds' line.

However, the Reds showed their championship qualities by finally venturing into the Crusaders' 22 as time elapsed where McCaw conceded an almost inevitable penalty.

Cooper missed three kickable penalties in the first half but made no mistake from in front to send the bulk of a crowd of 48,031 - the highest in Australian Super rugby history - into rapture.

It was a rare attacking foray for the Reds who had to rely on an instinctive sniping run from halfback Will Genia in the 44th minute to overturn a 10-7 halftime deficit.

Genia found acres of space down the blindside and touched down in the corner before the momentum swung to the Crusaders on the back of their set piece.

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Although riveting, it was also a frustrating contest for the Crusaders who were often perplexed by Dickinson's rulings. He issued a general warning late in the first spell and was questioned by Kieran Read and McCaw in quick succession at the hour mark.

While Cooper was lauded, the curtain never really parted for Sonny Bill Williams - in the seventh minute he headed for the sideline with split webbing on his hand and when he returned late in the opening quarter he was upstaged by his unheralded marker.

Ben Tapuai scored the opening try in the 23rd minute when the Reds finally executed an effective set piece.

After experiencing trouble with his accuracy, hooker Saia Faingaa picked out James Horwill at the tail of the formation, , Genia loomed in support and the halfback fired what looked like a forward pass to Tapuai who looked back guiltily before dotting down under the posts.

Cooper added the easy conversion but his accuracy from the tee then deteriorated.

His costliest miss occurred in the 26th minute with the Reds leading 7-3 - the ball cannoned off an upright and the Crusaders celebrated their reprieve with a classic counter-attacking try.

Carter dispossessed Anthony Faainga and fed Robbie Fruean who advanced 40 metres before setting wing Brent Ward on course for the right hand corner.

The All Blacks first five-eighths added the angled conversion but the Reds were soon back on attack and only heroic defence from McCaw prevented Genia from crossing eight minutes from the break.

The first solid Reds scrum of the half culminated in Wyatt Crockett being penalised by his old nemesis Dickinson though Cooper again let three points go begging from a handy angle.

Captain Horwill opted for a close range lineout in the 35th minute rather than trust Copper's misfiring boot but it was poached, encapsulating the home side's inability to capitalise on the Crusaders' errors.

Cooper's woes continued after the hooter when he missed another gift though the Crusaders were also guilty of squandering try-scoring opportunities. Tom Marshall and Willi Heinz both lost touch with their support after making promising breaks.

Zac Guildford narrowly failed to force his own chip during a frantic end to the opening half.

Reds 17

(Sam Tapuai, Will Genia tries; Quade Cooper 2 con, pen)

Crusaders 16

(Brent Ward try; Daniel Carter con, 3 pen). Halftime: 7-10.

- NZPA