Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Highlanders edged by Reds

Quade Cooper of the Reds fends off Elliot Dixon of the Highlanders during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Reds. Photo / Getty Images.
Quade Cooper of the Reds fends off Elliot Dixon of the Highlanders during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Reds. Photo / Getty Images.

Highlanders 33
Reds 34

Super 15 games are never about one player. However, within that framework some individuals create an extensive impact.

Much of that inquisition tonight in Dunedin was on the contributions of rival halfbacks Will Genia and Aaron Smith, who have been so influential for their international sides.
Smith has been steady this season but not much more in a reflection of the way the Highlanders have been travelling in the first segment of the series.

They were unable to break that lethargy as the Reds pinned a 34-33 victory to their results chart to revive their chase of the Brumbies for the lead in the Australian section.

Genia has returned from knee surgery, slowly at first but tonight in Dunedin he cranked through his entire kitbag to earn the plaudits of former All Black turned commentator Justin Marshall.

"He's some player Will Genia, the best in the world,'' Marshall said after half an hour.

Genia's production contrasted with his image in the pre-game huddle where he yawned through the team rev-up.

But once referee Jaco Peyper whistled the start, Genia hit his skills button. Not that Smith was far adrift.

He got to the rucks better than he has done, made a snipe or two, but a pass here and a kick there were not quite what he would have wanted.

Smith had one thing over his rival when he doubled as lineout thrower and halfback while skipper Andrew Hore went to the sinbin for a professional foul.

Meanwhile, Genia looked as though he was casually waiting for a bus at the back of the Reds ruck. He scanned the field and played the shortside with rare aplomb as he got his forwards and runners to peel back the Highlanders' line.

When necessary he speared a pass wide and he was often in the backfield to defuse the Highlanders' long kicking game.

The Reds' allround game was too complete, their organisation more effective and Genia crowned that supremacy with the visitors' bonus point try.

They worked a scrum and when Quade Cooper hinted at a dummy run blind to unnerve the Highlanders defence, Genia ran wide and kept on going.

Hore and Tony Woodcock returned from injury in the frontrow for the Highlanders but, like international teammate Ma'a Nonu, found it tough to ignite some sting.

Wing Hosea Gear and little Buxton Popoali'i on the other flank and fullback Ben Smith were lively but there is a lack of bite in the looseforwards and a lack of zip and crunch outside Smith.

The wings created late hope of a revival when they combined for a converted try in the final quarter push for victory.

Nonu finally found an attacking channel with some good ball and he swivelled past three or four tacklers to score as the changing complexion of the match continued.

Cooper and replacement five eighths Lima Sopoaga goaled kicks in the pressure run to the finish as the Highlanders got within a point but no further.

Reds (James Hanson, Liam Gill, Jake Schatz, Will Genia, tries; Quade Cooper 4 con, pen Highlanders ( Elliot Dixon, Hosea Gear, Ma'a Nonu, tries: Colin Slade 3 pen, con, Lima Sopoaga 2 con, pen

Halftime: 21-16

- NZ Herald

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