Highlanders' late comeback falls short

Liam Squire of the Highlanders breaks away from the defence during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.
Liam Squire of the Highlanders breaks away from the defence during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.

The Reds have held on for their first victory of the Super Rugby season, edging the Highlanders 28-27 in a Saturday night thriller at Suncorp Stadium.

Liam Gill, Nick Frisby and star man Samu Kerevi all scored tries in the first half, as the competition's 17th-ranked team dominated the outfit who came into the round rated second best.

All Black halfback Aaron Smith scored the Highlanders' first try on the hour mark and, nine minutes later, Malakai Fekitoa dived over for a five-pointer, before Lima Sopoaga raced nearly 80 metres to cross in the corner and nailed his conversion to close the gap to a point.

The 17,119 fans then collectively held their breath as the Reds grimly wound down the clock to the 80-minute mark, snapping the Highlanders' five-game winning streak.

Gill put the Reds in front, scoring in the right corner in the second minute after being fed by Kerevi.

A golden chance for a Highlanders try was wasted soon afterwards when Rob Thompson dropped a pass from Smith 20 metres out under little pressure.

The Highlanders were made to regret this in the 16th minute when Kerevi passed to Nabuli on the left wing 40 metres from the line and the bruising winger cut inside Jack Wilson and drew the challenge of Matt Faddes before feeding Frisby to touch down under the posts.

Kerevi, who racked up 150 metres including seven tackle busts in the first half, was rewarded with the try his play deserved five minutes before the break when he collected the ball on the left wing, 35 metres out and shrugged off despairing challenges before diving over.

The Reds went off at halftime to a well-deserved standing ovation, but the second half could not have been a more-contrasting affair.

The Highlanders dominated immediately but were denied a try from Shane Christie for offside just after the restart and Sopoaga, due to foul play from Joe Wheeler. Instead, two Reds penalties extended their lead, before Liam Squire fed All Blacks No.9 Smith to score in the left corner.

After concerted Highlanders pressure on the Reds' tryline, Fekitoa dived over under the posts and then, with a tap back to his five-eighth on his own 22, set up a remarkable 80-metre run and try from Sapoaga. The only downside in a great night for the Reds was Rob Simmons leaving the field with a shoulder injury just before the interval.

He will have a scan on the AC joint of his left shoulder and there is doubt about whether he will be on the plane for consecutive away games in South Africa.

Reds co-interim head coach Matt O'Connor was just as happy with his side's late resilience as their stunning first-half display.

"It's certainly the best 40 minutes we put together so far this year," O'Connor said. "In the second half, they were coming at us from every angle. They're the reigning champions, they wanted the four points as much as we did.

"The ebb and flow isn't always your way. It's about managing those moments."

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph, meanwhile, was damning of his side for getting themselves into a hole they couldn't fight their way out of.

"We had 30 missed tackles, we played the whole game without missing ten tackles against the Rebels, that's a reflection of personal preparation and attitude," Joseph said.

"How we finished the game is irrelevant. In Super Rugby you win games in the second half, but you can lose them in the first half. That's what we did."


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