Mitchell Hunt kicked a penalty after the hooter to give the Crusaders a 22-20 win against the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The Reds looked as if they could wind down the clock to claim their first victory against the Saders since the 2011 Super Rugby final, only for Samu Kerevi to be penalised for going off his feet. Hunt stepped up and sent the ball through the posts to snatch a win that had seemed highly unlikely at a time when the visitors trailed 17-0 after 24 minutes, and 20-7 at the break.
But the Saders, who lost Israel Dagg early on to a knee injury, fought back in typical fashion and prevented the Reds from scoring any points in the second half, even when Jordan Taufua was in the sin bin. In fact, they scored a crucial try while down to 14 men. Their bench also made a big impact, with replacement scrumhalf Bryn Hall grabbing a double.
The Reds will be gutted by this defeat, considering they had 60% possession and 57% territory. They would have probably scored more than two tries, had they not made a whopping 32 handling errors, of which some came when they were in the opposition 22.
The hosts started this match superbly, racing out to a 10-0 lead after 12 minutes, thanks to a penalty by Quade Cooper and Kerevi's converted try. The centre ran straight on to a pass from Cooper and powered through the tackle of Jack Goodhue to score.
Kerevi played a big part in his side's next try, spinning out of Codie Taylor's tackle just inside the Crusaders half and taking play deep into the 22. He was doubled-tackled, but did well to get the pass away to Eto Nabuli, who extended the lead to 17 after 24 minutes.
It didn't take long for the Crusaders to hit back, as Digby Ioane's kick ahead bounced awkwardly in the Reds' 22 and into the hands of Mitchell Drummond, who planted the ball on the line. Hunt added the extras.
But the Reds would dominate possession and territory for the remainder of the half, and were unlucky not to add to their try tally when Cooper's banana kick bounced into a post and away from the chasing Karmichael Hunt. Cooper, though, did slot another penalty to make it 20-7 at the break.
The Reds dominated the third quarter of the match, but couldn't increase their lead. The Crusaders then reduced the gap to eight points after sending the ball wide on halfway. Hunt pulled in a couple of defenders with a show-and-go, before passing to replacement George Bridge, who put Hall away for the try.
The Crusaders were reduced to 14 men with 11 minutes to go when Taufua was yellow-carded for throwing a punch. But it didn't prevent them from scoring a third try through Hall, who picked up the ball from the back of a ruck and placed it against a post.
Hunt slotted the conversion and then held his nerve after the hooter to steal the win.
Reds – Tries: Samu Kerevi, Eto Nabuli. Conversions: Quade Cooper (2). Penalties: Cooper (2).
Crusaders – Tries: Mitchell Drummond, Bryn Hall (2). Conversions: Mitchell Hunt (2). Penalty: Hunt.
Reds – 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Izack Rodda, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper (c).
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa'agase, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Jake McIntyre, 23 Chris Kuridrani.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 George Bridge.
Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images