Lima Sopoaga kicked a 78th-minute penalty to help the Highlanders to a hard-fought 18-15 victory over the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
In stark contrast to the previous game between the Chiefs and Waratahs, this contest was a low-quality war of attrition. In the end, the Highlanders won the necessary mini-battles to prevail.
The win sees the Highlanders avoid a third successive defeat on the road, while the Reds’ unwanted winless run against New Zealand opposition is extended to 11 matches.
The Reds enjoyed a solid start, controlling possession and the territorial battle. And when the Highlanders were penalised for streaking offside, Jono Lance split the uprights to give the hosts a three-point lead.
However, repeated lineout malfunctions stifled any momentum the Reds had built up, allowing the Highlanders to hit back with a penalty and a Tevita Li try for an 8-3 advantage.
Clear-cut scoring chances were few and far between thereafter, but the final 10 minutes of the first half belonged to the Reds, who suddenly got the shove on at scrum time and demolished the Highlanders pack. The first scrum penalty – against the feed – saw Lance line up a shot at goal, but he missed a sitter from straight in front.
Five minutes later, it was copy and paste at scrum time when the Reds walked over the ball on the Highlanders’ put-in again. But the hosts didn’t fall into the same trap of kicking at goal. They set up a lineout and drove towards the line with a maul. The ball squirted loose and hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa was first to react as he secured possession and went over for a 10-8 lead at the break.
The Reds scored an absolute blinder of a try early in the second half when fullback Hamish Stewart finished off after the hosts strung together 21 phases on attack.
The visitors recomposed themselves and hit back through Liam Squire, who bulldozed his way over Moses Sorovi to score.
From that moment, they continued to hammer away at the Reds’ defensive line and while the hosts did well not to concede a try, they eventually conceded a penalty and Sopoaga stepped up to slot the match-defining kick.
Reds – Tries: Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Hamish Stewart. Conversion: Jono Lance. Penalty: Jono Lance.
Highlanders – Tries: Tevita Li, Liam Squire. Conversion: Lima Sopoaga. Penalties: Sopoaga (2).
Reds – 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 JP Smith.
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Liam Wright, 22 Moses Sorovi, 23 Aidan Toua.
Highlanders – 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Tei Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 James Lentjes, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman.
Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images