Defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions, the Queensland Reds kept their season alive with a hard-fought 19-13 victory over a gritty Highlanders side in Brisbane on Friday.
The victory officially ended the Highlanders' chances of making the top six as even with the four points they will earn from the bye they have next week they cannot break into the playoff race.
The Reds, after a horror start to the season, have regained their form, although it came more in patches in this match.
After a horrid first half which saw more mistakes than anything else, they did find themselves 6-3 up, but it was only as the match wound down that it started to resemble anything that is worthy of this level of competition.
Both sides looked as if they were more concerned about not losing than making point scoring moves, and they weren’t helped by indiscretions at the breakdown that brought a plethora of penalties and made the game stop-start for most of the first stanza.
But in the second half, after the Reds took another penalty to go 9-3 up, the game suddenly came to life as both sides started to throw caution to the wind in search of points.
Once again, it must be said how effective the Reds backline look with Quade Cooper back in action. While the Wallaby flyhalf is far from his best, he is still one of the best attacking exponents on the field and was often the cog in the Reds going forward in the second half.
The Reds looked as if they may have found their feet in good fashion as Cooper was stopped inches short of the line, with the recycled ball moving through the hands to find James Slipper, who went over to make it 14-3.
The Highlanders had little option but to respond and immediately took the kickoff and started charging up towards the Reds line. Some excellent ball carries by Adam Thomson and Hosea Gear kept them over the advantage line. It wasn’t long before a gap opened up from such a probe and Thomson darted through to score.
Another Harris penalty looked as if it was going to be enough for the Reds to hang on for the win, but the Highlanders weren’t done yet, launching another long-range attack that led to another series of close pick and goes for replacement prop Chris King to barge over for the try from close range.
But with the conversion again being missed, it left the Highlanders needing another converted try to win the game. They tried bravely, running the ball from their own line to place the Reds under a huge amount of pressure.
Two penalties were conceded by the home side and as the Highlanders looked as if they were gaining enough momentum to score, captain Jamie McIntosh got isolated and a wonderful steal from Scott Higginbotham was enough to ensure the victory went the Reds' way.
The Reds may still not have done enough to make the playoffs though -- they will need a victory next week against the Waratahs and some other results to go their way.
But they showed enough on Friday to let the other teams know they still have hopes of keeping their title, and they’re willing to fight to the death to do it.
Reds –Try: James Slipper. Conversion: Mike Harris. Penalties: Mike Harris(4).
Highlanders –Tries: Adam Thomson, Chris King. Penalty: Mike Delany