VIDEO: Higginbotham double ends Reds' Kiwi drought
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: Veteran Wallaby loose forward Scott Higginbotham scored a double to mark his last game for the Reds, a winning departure.
Higginbotham scored a try in the first and his second, the winning score, in the 77th minute – as the Reds came from behind to edge the Blues 29-28 in Brisbane on Friday.
France-bound Higginbotham scored in either half in his final match for the Reds to ensure a victorious send-off for captain Samu Kerevi, who is being widely tipped for a move to Japanese club Suntory after this year’s World Cup.
It was the Reds first win in 16 games and three years against New Zealand opposition, going back to April 2016.
Higginbotham’s first-half try came on the back of some Kerevi brilliance and made him the first forward to score 40 Super Rugby tries.
The 32-year-old then scored in the 77th minute with Bryce Hegarty nailing the conversion to snap a 15-match losing streak for the Reds against New Zealand opposition.
AS IT HAPPENED: To recap all the drama, CLICK HERE!
The victory appeared highly unlikely after the Blues charged to a 21-5 lead after 23 minutes.
Blues captain Blake Gibson opened the scoring after just three minutes and then Tanielu Tele’a and Augustine Pulu crossed for tries either side of Higginbotham’s first try of the match.
The Reds recovered from their dire opening 20 minutes to turn the tide of the match and closed within nine points when Taniela Tupou, who’d been denied a try earlier in the half, crashed over following a mountain of pressure inside the Blues’ 22.
Hegarty’s penalty on the stroke of halftime made it 21-15 to the Blues at the break.
The Reds fullback then crossed for his fifth try of the season at home to put the hosts ahead for the first time in the game.
Pulu’s second on the back of a Tupou penalty put the New Zealanders clear again by six and the Blues halfback thought he had a hat-trick only for a video review to reveal he’d failed to properly release the ball after being tackled by Reds’ winger Filipo Daugunu before jumping up to dive over the tryline.
The Blues’ then went down to 10 men when Dalton Papali’i was shown a yellow card in the 66th minute when referee Brendon Pickerill lost patience with the number of infringements by the visitors.
While the Reds failed to take advantage of their opponents being a man down, they kept coming and claimed their sixth win of a difficult campaign.
The out of contention Reds finish their season against the Australian conference-leading Brumbies next Saturday in Canberra.
Man of the match: This was an easy choice – Reds No.8 and two-try hero Scott Higginbotham.
For the Reds:
Tries: Higginbotham 2, Tupou, Hegarty
Cons: Hegarty 3
For the Blues:
Tries: Gibson, Tele’a, Pulu 2
Cons: Black 4
Yellow card: Dalton Papalii (Blues, 66 – repeated infringements, illegally collapsing the maul
Reds: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Jock Campbell, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 Matt McGahan, 9 Scott Malolua, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Angus Blyth, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Gav Luka, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Hamish Stewart.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Thomas Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Tanielu Tele’a, 10 Otere Black, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (captain), 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Lua Li, 19 Tom Robinson, 20 Josh Goodhue, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Levi Aumua.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)