The Reds held on to earn their first win of the season by beating the current Super Rugby champions the Highlanders 28-27 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The Highlanders scored three unanswered tries as they came from behind but they were unable to get ahead of the Reds on the scoreboard. The Highlanders do however take a losing bonus point from the loss.
The Reds were leading by 22 points and had the bonus point in hand with 30 minutes remaining before they allowed the Highlanders back into the match and almost steal the result.
The Highlanders loss ends a run of five straight wins for the champions and extends the losing streak in Queensland to six matches as they have not won in Brisbane since April 2005.
The Reds outplayed the Highlanders in the first half to lead 22-6 and extended the advantage to 28-6, but it was all hands to the pump for much of the second half as the Kiwi champions roared back to just miss out.
It was the Reds’ sixth straight win at home over the Highlanders.
Returning openside flanker Liam Gill, scrum-half Nick Frisby and blockbusting centre Samu Kerevi scored first half tries in the Reds’ best half of rugby this season.
But it was a tense time for the home side and their fans in the second period as All Black scrum-half Aaron Smith scored the Highlanders’ first try, preceding further five-pointers from Malakai Fekitoa and fly-half Lima Sopoaga.
Sopoaga dashed 80 metres to score off an intercept pass and converted from the sideline to close the deficit to one point.
The Reds had to work overtime to hold out the charging Highlanders and end the defending champions’ five-match winning sequence.
The Highlanders had two tries disallowed when skipper Shane Christie was penalised for offside and Sopoaga’s effort was rubbed out for foul play from Joe Wheeler.
It was a more confident performance from the Reds, who were without a win in the first five rounds forcing out head coach Richard Graham.
Kerevi was a constant threat to the Highlanders midfield defence, while fullback Karmichael Hunt transformed one of the least effective attacks in Super Rugby.
Wallabies flanker Gill was also a big boost for the 2011 champions with his work-rate and experience.
The only downside for the Reds was Wallaby lock Rob Simmons, who was forced off with a shoulder injury just before halftime.
“It was tough. We played pretty well in the first half and we wanted to come out in the second half and keep going,” Reds skipper James Slipper said.
“We knew the Highlanders would get their fair share of the ball and they can score tries from anywhere. We’re pretty happy with that win.”
The Highlanders have a bye next week in Round 8 while the Reds travel to South Africa as they play the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.
Final Score Reds 28 (22) Highlanders 27 (6)
Tries – L.Gill, N.Frisby, S.Kerevi
Pen – J.McIntyre 2
Con – J.McIntyre 2
Drop – J.McIntyre
Tries – A.Smith, M.Fekitoa, L.Sopoaga
Pen – L.Sopoaga 2
Con – L.Sopoaga 3
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 1:Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 2:Jordan Way
TMO : George Ayoub
1. James Slipper (C) , 2. Andrew Ready , 3. Greg Holmes , 4. Cadeyrn Neville , 5. Rob Simmons , 6. Hendrik Tui , 7. Liam Gill , 8. Jake Schatz , 9. Nick Frisby , 10. Jake McIntyre , 11. Eto Nabuli , 12. Anthony Fainga’a , 13. Samu Kerevi , 14. Chris Feauai-Sautia , 15. Karmichael Hunt
Replacements : 16. Saia Fainga’a , 17. Sef Fa’agase , 18. Sam Talakai , 19. Ben Matwijow , 20. Curtis Browning , 21. Scott Gale , 22. Sam Greene , 23. Ayumu Goromaru
1. Daniel Lienert-Brown , 2. Liam Coltman , 3. Siosiua Halanukonuka , 4. Mark Reddish , 5. Joe Wheeler , 6. Luke Whitelock , 7. Shane Christie ( c ) , 8. Liam Squire , 9. Aaron Smith , 10. Lima Sopoaga , 11. Pat Osborne , 12. Rob Thompson , 13. Malakai Fekitoa , 14. Jack Wilson , 15. Matt Faddes
Replacements: 16. Ash Dixon , 17. Ross Geldenhuys , 18. Josh Hohneck , 19. Tom Franklin , 20. Dan Pryor , 21. Fumiaki Tanaka , 22. Hayden Parker , 23. Jason Emery