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Highlanders break Reds' hearts with late try

SUPER RUGBY FRIDAY WRAP: A last-minute try has robbed the Queensland Reds of just their second win in 27 years in Dunedin and left the injury-hit side in grave danger of missing the Super Rugby Pacific finals.

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The Highlanders kept their own season alive with a 35-30 win at a pulsing Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday, Folau Fakatava scoring in the right corner with 30 seconds to play.

The Reds led 14-0 early then 27-14 early in the second half, Tom Lynagh kicking a clutch 45-metre penalty from out wide to put the Reds ahead by three with four minutes to play.

But the Highlanders came again to leave the Reds shattered.

Victory would have sewn up a finals berth but the result leaves the Reds clinging on to eighth and all but needing a win in Fiji against the Drua to remain there and play finals.

The Reds hadn’t won in Dunedin since 2013 – their only win since 1996 – but looked on song early when Liam Wright powered over in the seventh minute.

But the co-captain hurt his arm and saw no further part, with fellow leader Tate McDermott and loose forward Conner Vest also first-half casualties.

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A try-of-the-season contender followed, Harry Wilson running off his own line to bust through tacklers, dummy then pass to James O’Connor.

O’Connor shunted off a tackle and somehow stayed infield, the ball going through four more sets of hands before Jake Upfield scored.

The Highlanders got it back to 14-14 before Suliasi Vunivalu leapt through the line and waltzed over on the half-time siren to give the Reds the lead.

Tom Lynagh’s (three-from-three penalties) boot kept the visitors ahead in the second half as their injuries took a toll on their energy stocks, even with Wilson’s constant charges bending the Highlanders’ line.

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Connor Garden-Bachop’s try put the hosts in front for the first time, two potential knock-ons and a forward pass in the build-up not reviewed.

Another scrum penalty win gave Lynagh a platform to boot the Reds back in front and he obliged.

But a simple knock-on by Hunter Paisami hurt the visitors, the fit-again centre fumbling a loose ball that had spilt out when the Highlanders were pressing for a try.

Fakatava, on for Aaron Smith in the Japan-bound scrumhalf’s final home game, made the most of it to dart over and shatter the Reds’ hopes of a second straight win in New Zealand.

Melbourne thump Force

In Friday’s other match, Melbourne have put a major dent in the Western Force’s Super Rugby Pacific finals aspirations and farewelled Rebels stalwart Reece Hodge from AAMI Park as a winner with a thumping 52-14 victory.

The loss wasn’t the only damage to the Force’s play-off hopes, with the WA club relegated to ninth by Queensland’s last-gasp loss to the Highlanders earlier on Friday.

They were unable to pick up a point in the eight tries to two romp, while the Rebels, who will require a miracle in the last round to make the finals, at least gave their fans something to cheer about with the bonus-point victory.

The match was the last at home for France-bound centre Hodge, who overtook Tom English as the most-capped Melbourne player with 99.

The 28-year-old was unable to get amongst the tryscoring action, with five of the Rebels’ forwards – Brad Wilkin, Sam Talakai, Josh Kemeny, Richard Hardwick and Vaiolini Ekuasi – sharing some of the spoils.

Melbourne set up the win with their go-forward and dominance at the set-piece and breakdown.

The rest of the tries were scored by Ryan Louwrens, Lachie Anderson and Nick Jooste in Melbourne’s biggest-ever score posted at AAMI Park.

Flyhalf Carter Gordon, who missed last week’s loss to the Highlanders with a knee injury, and veteran scrumhalf Louwrens combined to spark the relentless Rebels attack.

Bullocking centre Sam Spink scored a try in each half for the Force – intercepting a Gordon pass for his second.

But it was otherwise a disappointing performance to follow their breakthrough win over the Brumbies last time out.

Currently 10th, the Rebels take on the third-placed Brumbies in Canberra in the final round.

The Force will need to beat the ladder-leading Chiefs in Perth to force their way back into finals contention.

Highlanders 35-30 Reds

The scorers:

For Highlanders:
Tries: Nareki, Renton, Ma’u, Garden-Bachop, Fakatava
Cons: Gilbert 4, Burns

Reds:
Tries: Wright, Upfield, Vunivalu
Cons: Lynagh 3
Pens: Lynagh 3

Teams:

Highlanders: 15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Jonah Lowe, 13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 12 Sam Gilbert, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Hugh Renton, 7 Billy Harmon (captain), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Max Hicks, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Saula Ma’u, 19 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 20 Sean Withy, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Connor Garden-Bachop, 23 Scott Gregory.

Reds: 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Suliasi Vunivalu, 13 Josh Flook, 12 James O’Connor, 11 Mac Grealy, 10 Tom Lynagh, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Liam Wright (co-captain), 5 Connor Vest, 4 Angus Blyth, 3 Zane Nonggorr, 2 Matt Faessler, 1 Peni Ravai.
Replacements: 16 Richie Asiata, 17 Dane Zander, 18 Sef Fa’agase, 19 Jake Upfield, 20 Seru Uru, 21 Kalani Thomas, 22 Lawson Creighton, 23 Hunter Paisami.

Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant referees: Angus Mabey, Marcus Playle
TMO: Glenn Newman

Melbourne Rebels 52-14 Western Force

The scorers:

For Rebels:
Tries: Louwrens, Wilkin, Talakai, Kemeny, Hardwick, Anderson, Jooste, Ekuasi
Cons: Hodge 6

For Force:
Tries: Spink 2
Cons: Burey 2

Teams:

Rebels: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Lachie Anderson, 13 Lukas Ripley, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Brad Wilkin (captain), 6 Josh Kemeny, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Josh Canham, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 Theo Fourie, 17 Isaac Aedo Kailea, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Trevor Hosea, 20 Vaiolini Ekuasi, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Nick Jooste, 23 Joe Pincus.

Force: 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Zach Kibirge, 13 Sam Spink, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Manasa Mataele, 10 Max Burey, 9 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 8 Rahboni Vosayaco, 7 Carlo Tizzano, 6 Michael Wells (captain), 5 Jeremy Williams, 4 Felix Kalapu, 3 Siosifa Amone, 2 Angus Warner, 1 Folau Fainga’a.
Replacements: 16 Tom Horton, 17 Marley Pearce, 18 Bo Abra, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Tim Anstee, 21 Isi Naisarani, 22 Ian Prior, 23 George Poolman.

Referee: Dan Waenga
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, Mike Winter
TMO: Richard Kelly

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