Down 18-8, the Reds looked dead and buried before O’Connor kicked a 75th-minute penalty and then redeemed himself in a major way.
From counter-attack in back field, O’Connor ran left then offloaded Chris Feauai-Sautia, who threw an amazing one-handed pop pass for Alex Mafi to run onto and dive over the line with 68 seconds remaining.
As the Rebels tried to fathom how it had come to this, O’Connor nailed a conversion after the siren to send the game into Super Time; a new concept introduced in Super Rugby AU this year.
After five tense minutes each way, the deadlock could not be broken. The Reds had a chance to seal victory with a penalty kick on halfway but Bryce’s Hegarty’s valiant attempt sailed just right.
A number of scrum resets – the clock was not stopped during this period – and rushed kicks made for a scrappy final few minutes.
When Reece Hodge nailed a brilliant 50-22 to win a lineout feed the Rebels had a chance to get the job done but Matt Philip couldn’t catch a lineout throw and the Reds survived the late scare.
“That’s the moment you’ve got to win the game, you have to win that lineout,” Wessels said. “It summed up the story of the night for us. That’s a pretty painful lesson.
“We should have had the game in the bag. To have a lead like that and then blow it in the last two minutes … credit to the Reds for fighting but we didn’t control the game well at that point.
“We were a lot better tonight than we were six days ago [during a loss to the Brumbies]. With everything going on, I’m reasonably pleased.”
Brad Thorn had mixed emotions after full-time yet was proud of the fight shown by his troops.
“Bit of a weird one really; you’re half happy, half not happy,” Thorn said. “It’s a new thing and they slugged it out for 90 minutes. We didn’t get the result in the end but it’s two points and we’ll take it.
“There’s fight in the team. We don’t go away. It was a pretty exciting finish really that went right down to the wire.”
A reasonable crowd who braved cold and wet conditions booed at full-time in what was an anti-climatic finish to a match that didn’t really deserve a winner.
In the stands were some familiar faces, including interim Rugby Australia chief executive Rob Clarke and his chairman, Hamish McLennan.
A slippery ball contributed to a few wonky and overthrown lineouts in the early exchanges that had both coaches tearing their hair out. The Rebels (67 per cent) and Reds (68 per cent) were almost as bad as each other.
Matt Toomua was on the committee that helped formulate a number of law changes for Super Rugby AU and had clearly been thinking about potential loopholes when he tried to slot a 45-metre drop goal that came off the back of a goal-line drop out.
Even though it missed, the kick was a contender for highlight of a dull first 40 minutes. It was odd given the Rebels could have taken an easy three-pointer moments earlier but two penalties gave them a 6-0 lead at the break.
Toomua’s kicking game had opposition coaches worried before the competition, however he was guilty at times of booting the ball far too frequently and his kicks weren’t always as accurate as he would have liked.
The Reds opened the scoring in the second half though courtesy of Filipo Daugunu, who was the beneficiary of a looping pass from O’Connor that may have been a tad forward.
Queensland lost their lead shortly after when Manly boy Reece Hodge went over in the north-east corner of the ground to give his side an 11-8 lead. Most impressive, however, was Marika Koroibete’s crisp left-to-right pass from second receiver.
Usually only a few paces from the sideline at any one moment, Koroibete showed an extra dimension to his game that may give Dave Rennie some food for thought.
Koroibete failed a HIA test in the second half and would have been itching to be on the field during the dying stages.
Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald