Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Rugby: Reds edge Blues in thriller

Rene Ranger of the Blues takes on the defence during the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Blues. Photo / Getty Images.
Rene Ranger of the Blues takes on the defence during the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Blues. Photo / Getty Images.

Blues 11
Reds 12

How on earth did the Reds beat the Blues in Brisbane last night? Sometimes there just isn't a logical answer in sport.

After virtually owning the Super 15 match at Suncorp Stadium, the Blues lost 11 - 12.

This was one of those rare occasions when you can say the best team lost.

Quade Cooper landed a short angled penalty in the 73rd minute after maul offences, from Ali Williams and Luke Braid, to win the match.

"It comes down to what the referee sees," said a frustrated Blues captain Williams after the match. "That (the result) hurts, that sucks." Dropped attack ball by Keven Mealamu and Williams in the final minutes also hurt them.

From the steals by their backs Piri Weepu and Rene Ranger, to a total dominance of the breakdown, and the continual threat that the Blues could run away with this game, there only seemed one possible winner and yet it was not to be.

Which is the beauty of sport, the reason we love this stuff, although the Blues outfit will have trouble seeing it that way.

The Blues, who led 11 - 9 at halftime, should have put the Reds away early. Fresh from a bye, and against a team jaded after an epic battle against the Brumbies, they were all over the home side.

Reds captain James Horwill said: "A lot of things didn't go our way but we scrambled well."

The result means the Blues may lose their place at the top of the New Zealand conference this weekend.

The Blues absolutely owned the breakdown in a way you rarely see in top flight rugby.

They were almost unchallenged in possession, while the Reds were constantly under pressure on the few occasions they had the ball. Cooper even missed a sitter of a penalty in the 53rd minute which further enhanced the Blues prospects. And yet somehow, it was not to be.

The Blues opened the match by dominating possession, flowing from one side of the field to another and stretching the Reds from the outset.

But after a penalty swap, the first piece of magic in the game came from Cooper, who launched a counter attack that should have brought a greater reward, but for the flying Rod Davies running away from his support.

The Blues scrum was having a few problems but their lineout attacks brought some compensation, and they nailed the only try of the half thanks to Culum Retallick stealing the Reds' ball at a maul from a restart. Jackson Willison then broke past flimsy Reds defence to give the Blues the halftime lead.

On a perfect night for running rugby, a goal kick provided a memorable moment in the first spell.

The 20-year-old Albert Nikoro - the replacement for George Moala who was stood down by the Blues coach Sir John Kirwan on an undisclosed discipline matter - hit a superb 55 metre penalty that easily cleared the crossbar. He missed a similar kick in the second half, but again had ample distance, before being forced off with concussion.

The Blues have uncovered an unlikely weapon though and one that may force future opponents to re-evaluate their game plans.

There was another surprising highlight - a smashing tackle on the powerful Ranger by Cooper, whose defence is constantly questioned. Cooper picked the line perfectly and while he didn't dislodge the ball, it shut down a promising long range Blues attack.
It was one of a number of first half moments when the Blues threatened to take control with their quick stepping power but the odd mistake or spot tackling from the Reds kept them at bay. It appeared to only delay the inevitable, but the inevitable was not to be.

Reds 12 (Q. Cooper 4 pen), Blues 11 (J. Willison try, C. Noakes, A. Nikoro pens). Halftime: Blues 11 - 9.

- NZ Herald

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