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Higginbotham heroics helps Reds beat the Blues

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The Reds edged the Blues 29-28 to give themselves a mathematical chance of reaching the Super Rugby playoffs at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.

Scott Higginbotham’s 77th-minute try salvaged a see-sawing match as the number eight registered a brace in his last game at Suncorp in the famous maroon.

Both teams shared four tries in this trans-Tasman thriller.

Bryce Hegarty scored a try and kicked nine points, including the match-winning conversion after Higginbotham’s try, took the Reds to within a point.

Higginbotham’s first score made him the highest scoring forward in Super Rugby history, helping the Reds beat the blues for the first time in five matches going back to 2013.

Augustine Pulu also grabbed a brace – and could have had a hat-trick – as the Blues could not withstand a late Queensland siege to take the points.

Auckland led by six points with less than 13 minutes remaining.

But Dalton Papalii was sin-binned for a totting-up offence in the red zone.

His card gave the hosts a sniff.

Queensland was kept at bay, but the introduction of Duncan Paia’aua changed the complexion of the contest.

Papalii’s yellow card also played a part because the visitors ran out of numbers, and steam in the end.

Paia’aua’s spark could not be snuffed out as he wrecked the Blues chances of an improbable playoff place.

The victory broke a 15-game losing streak for Brad Thorn’s men against New Zealand opposition to the delight of the home support.

The Blues dominated the opening stanza to lead at the break

The match was error-strewn, both sides feeding off each other’s mistakes.

Gibson crashed over in the third minute after a series of pick-and-drives to put the blues on the board.

Otere Black added the conversion, but the Reds hit back.

Taniela Tupou went close, but the tighthead was tackled into touch by two defenders.

The Reds had the penalty advantage, but their driving maul was held up by the opposition pack.

Higginbotham’s record 40th-Super Rugby try by a forward was sandwiched by Tanielu Tele’a and Pulu’s scores, all within five minutes of each other.

Papalii and Akira Ioane combined with some nifty offloads after a nine-phase attack to set-up the try.

Tanielu Tele’a finished the attack, dotting down in the 18th-minute.

Higginbotham was set-up by some smart play by Jock Campbell and Samu Kerevi, down the right-hand touchline to reduce the deficit.

However, Ma’a Nonu’s break from his half set-up Augustine Pulu for the Blues’ third try of the half.

Nonu slipped Chris Feauai-Sautia’s tackle and sped away from Filipo Daugunu before playing Pulu with an inside pass.

The scrumhalf scored under the posts.

Super Rugby Video Highlights, Round 17: Reds versus Blues, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Tupou crashed over from close range after some sustained pressure inside the Blues’ 22.

Leon MacDonald’s team were leaking penalties, and it eventually proved costly.

Bryce Hegarty narrowed the gap on the stroke of halftime with a penalty.

Queensland start the second-half, hot

Hegarty took Matt McGahan’s pass and scored in the corner after Scott Malolua’s magical offload, in the build-up.

Otere Black kicked away possession to Hegarty, who started and finished the counter-attack.

Hegarty, playing fullback again, slotted the touchline conversion to put his side ahead.

The Kiwis’ patient build-up was rewarded with a fourth try on 47 minutes.

Pulu darted over for his second from close range after the restart to put the Kiwis back in front.

Mistakes prove costly

Malolua and Samu Kerevi both kicked out on the full, killing Queensland’s momentum.

Kerevi’s error almost led to Pulu’s hat-trick.

Gibson almost lost the ball forward in the build-up.

Gibson made the tackle, got up and his counter-ruck won the ball back for the tourists.

The skipper then put Pulu away through a big hole.

The try was overturned because the scrumhalf did not release the ball after the tackle by Daugunu and Kerevi.

The Reds survived, but the Blues might have had a penalty for the high tackle on Pulu by Daugunu.

Queensland started to get a foothold in the final quarter; they won penalty after penalty as they the hosts marched into the Blues’ 22.

The infractions mounted and, eventually, referee Brendon Pickerill had had enough.

He yellow-carded Papalii in the 67th-minute.

The Blues withstood the siege.

Paia’aua came on at second receiver and caused mayhem in the Nnblues’ midfield.

The centre danced his way through tackles before setting up Higginbotham’s winner with less than three minutes remaining.

Hegarty’s conversion won the game.

It was a fantastic finish to an excellent Super Rugby career for the number eight, who leaves for France, next season.

Final Score: Reds 29 (15) Blues 28 (21)

Scorers

Reds
Tries – Higginbotham (2), Tupou, Hegarty
Pen – Hegarty
Con – Hegarty (3)
Drop –
Cards –

Blues
Tries – Gibson, Tele’a, Pulu (2)
Pen –
Con – Black (4)
Drop –
Cards – Papalii (yellow, 67′)

Match Officials
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Referee 1: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referee 2: Jordan Way
TMO: James Leckie

Teams

Reds

15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Jock Campbell, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 Matt McGahan, 9 Scott Malolua, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Angus Blyth, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.

Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Gav Luka, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Hamish Stewart.

Blues

15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Thomas Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Tanielu Tele’a, 10 Otere Black, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (captain), 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.

Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Lua Li, 19 Tom Robinson, 20 Josh Goodhue, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Levi Aumua.

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