A last-gasp try by flanker Jake Schatz enabled the Reds to give their scrumhalf Will Genia a much more fitting 100th game celebration than the one endured by their skipper James Horwill a couple of weeks ago as they shook off their recent lethargy to score an excellent 38-31 win over the Highlanders in a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Brisbane on Friday.
The Highlanders arrived as the favoured team as they are much higher on the overall Super Rugby log, and until this game they were still in with a shout in the New Zealand conference. But the Reds turned the form book upside down with a compelling all-round performance that must have had their fans wondering where they’ve been all season.
But it should have been much easier for the Reds than it was. They were up 31-17 with seven minutes to go, with a Patrick Osborne intercept try (where he ran three quarters of the length of the field) opening the game and ensuring that the Reds, who have made a habit of losing games they should have won this season, had an anxious closing period to the game.
Fumiaki Tamaka then scored almost on the hooter, Hayden Parker kicking the conversion that levelled up the scores with just under half a minute left in the game. Full marks to Horwill and his team for the way they retained possession from the restart, much in the manner that the Highlanders did against the Crusaders in the Dunedin classic last week.
Six days ago the Highlanders weren’t able to get over the line, with the TMO coming up with a debatable decision that saved the Crusaders when he ruled that the ball touched the ground beyond the tryline at the same time that Osborne’s elbow touched the in-goal touchline. But the Reds got right what the Highlanders failed to do, much surely to the Highlanders’ chagrin, as this was the second close match in a row that they have lost.
However, to be fair, they should never really have been in it at the death, and the Reds would have kicked themselves had they been denied the win.
Maybe it was Genia’s celebration or perhaps it was solidarity with Horwill, who lost to the Hurricanes on the occasion of his 100th but was brave in speaking out against the TMO scourge that is blighting modern rugby, but whatever it was, this was a different Reds team to the one that has stumbled from one defeat to another for most of the season.
There wasn’t an area of the game where the Reds weren’t superior to the Highlanders, who after this game retain their reputation for being unpredictable. What the result also does is restore a bit of the impregnability of the Suncorp Stadium fortress to Kiwi teams. The Crusaders recently broke a long sequence of New Zealand Super Rugby failure at that venue, but this game restored the trend of it being a graveyard for team’s from the other side of the Tasman Sea.
The Reds scored five tries to four, which meant they picked up five log points to the three from the Highlanders which was enough to keep the Highlanders in contention in both the conference battle and on the overall log.
The Reds were completely on top of the game in the first half, and they led 21-0 at the break after tries in the 13th minute, 30th minute and 34th minute by Curtis Browning, Rod Davies and Dom Shipperley respectively.
The Highlanders needed to be the first to score in the second half if they were to stand any chance, and they did that through flyhalf Lima Sopoaga in the 45th minute to cut the deficit to 14 points. But the Reds weren’t finished, far from it in fact, and Schatz scored the first of what was to turn into a two-try haul four minutes later to restore the 21-point gap.
Richard Buckman then crossed for the Highlanders to make it a 14-point game, and when Parker and Mike Harris traded penalties it remained that way until the Highlanders’ late surge. Unfortunately for them their brave flourish at the end took just enough energy out of them to leave them vulnerable to the Reds’ determination at the death.
Reds – Tries: Curtis Browning, Rod Davies, Dominic Shipperley, Jake Schatz(2).Conversions:Mike Harris (5). Penalty: Harris
Highlanders –Tries:Lima Sopoaga, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osbourne, Fumiaki Tanaka. Conversions: Sopoaga(2), Hayden Parker(2). Penalty: Hayden Parker.