Highlanders hand Reds costly lesson
The Reds’ horror run against New Zealand opponents has continued, coughing up a 12-point lead to hand the Highlanders just their third win of the Super Rugby Pacific season.
The hosts led 12-0, but again couldn’t seal the deal, suffering a 19-27 loss – a big blow to the Reds’ hopes of a top-four finish and home play-off match.
The Highlanders copped two overlapping yellow cards in the early stages, giving the Reds an early numerical advantage they looked to have made the most of.
But the visitors hit back late in the first half, Thomas Umaga-Jensen slipping five tackles to score out of nowhere, and then had a lead nine minutes into the second half.
The Reds (seven wins and four defeats), who were crowned domestic champions last season, now boast just two wins from their last 25 games against New Zealand opponents.
Injuries have not helped their cause, with Harry Wilson knocked out and taken from the field on the medi-cab attempting to regather a brilliant Jordan Petaia grubber after a linebreak early in the second half.
Influential Wallabies trio James O’Connor, Taniela Tupou and Hunter Paisami were already on the sidelines, the trio sorely missed when the Reds needed to steady and build on a solid start.
Captain Tate McDermott, who was curiously substituted with 10 minutes still to play, was probing all match long and looked to have scored the Reds’ third try in what proved a crucial moment.
He read a Highlanders pass and intercepted swiftly, racing away only to have it disallowed on review for a Petaia knock-on.
McDermott had earlier put Jock Campbell over, while Lawson Creighton’s crossfield kick found Josh Flook.
But Highlanders’ scrumhalf Aaron Smith steadied his troops and, after Ryan Smith’s try on the back of 17 phases put the Reds back in front, his replacement Folau Fakatava then took the game by the scruff of its neck.
His neat flick pass inside for Scott Gregory to stroll over was then followed up by his own try after the Highlanders forced another turnover and marched 90 metres.
Reds wing Suliasi Vunivalu returned from a hamstring injury but struggled to get into the game.
For the Reds
Tries: Campbell, Flook, Smith
Cons: Creighton 2
For the Highlanders
Tries: Umaga-Jensen, Gregory, Fakatava
Cons: Hunt, Banks 2
Pens: Hunt 2
Reds: 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Suliasi Vunivalu, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Lawson Creighton, 9 Tate McDermott (captain), 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Seru Uru, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Ryan Smith, 3 Feao Fotuaika, 2 Richie Asiata, 1 Harry Hoopert
Replacements: 16 Matt Faessler, 17 Dane Zander, 18 Albert Anae, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Spencer Jeans, 22 Josh Flook, 23 Filipo Daugunu
Highlanders: 15 Connor Garden-Bachop, 14 Sam Gilbert, 13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 12 Fetuli Paea, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 James Lentjes, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Saula Mau, 19 Max Hicks, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Mosese Dawai
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Reuben Keane & James Palmer
TMO: James Leckie