The Reds held on for a 34-33 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin.
For a while late in the game it looked as if the Reds would blow it after having led by 15 points in the second half. But they did enough to close out the game and record their first-ever victory in Dunedin.
It was a match generally low on quality but laden with determination, resolve and moments of individual skill. The Brisbane team's win was built on superior forward play and desperate defence.
It would be the former that consistently troubled their hosts. When the Reds were loose the Highlanders were always in the contest. However, when they controlled the ball through phases the Highlanders looked powerless to halt their surges. The space and time this afforded the back division was central to the team's success, and when Quade Cooper found himself pitted against a depleted defensive line he initiated an attack that culminated in James Hanson scoring.
Colin Slade drew the Highlanders to within a point with two penalties, and they gradually found their stride. Aaron Smith caught the Reds' defence napping when he quick tapped a penalty to set up Elliot Dixon's try, and when Slade added the extras you sensed the momentum would shift in the Highlanders' favour.
Instead the Reds regrouped and scored twice, Liam Gill profiting from a powerful rolling maul for the first, then Jake Schatz crossed against a 14-man Highlanders – Andrew Hore having been sin-binned for cynical play at the breakdown. The Highlanders spurned a couple of good try-scoring opportunities, but were still in contention at 21-16 down at half-time.
However, their hopes of attainting their first win of the season were dealt a blow within 15 minutes of the restart. Cooper landed a penalty before awful defending gifted Will Genia a try under the posts. The 31-16 scoreline was a fair reflection of the balance of play. The Reds had been completely dominant in terms of possession and territory, and looked far more organised and purposeful than their opponents.
The Highlanders strung together their best move of the match to score going into the final quarter, Hosea Gear rounding off an expansive move and Lima Sopoaga converting from the touchline to cut the lead to eight points. Then with 12 minutes to play Ma'a Nonu, anonymous for most of the match, cut through the line to score. Sopoaga set up a tense finish with the conversion.
Cooper eased the pressure slightly with a penalty nine minutes from full-time, but Sopoaga wouldn't be outdone, landing his own three pointer from just short of 50m.
The Highlanders drove into the red zone, but never had the composure to capitalise. The Reds worked their way upfield and clung on for a milestone win.
Highlanders – Tries: Elliot Dixon, Hosea Gear, Ma'a Nonu. Conversions: Colin Slade, Lima Sopoaga (3). Penalties: Colin Slade (3).
Reds – Tries: James Hanson, Liam Gill, Jake Schatz, Will Genia. Conversions: Quade Cooper (4). Penalties: Cooper (2).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoalii, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 TJ Ioane, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Phil Burleigh.
Reds – 15 Jono Lance, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Subs: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Aidan Toua, 22 Rod Davies.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images
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