The Highlanders dig deep to beat the Reds 36-31 in a thrilling Super Rugby game under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
This was as entertaining as entertaining a game that will be played all season – end-to-end.
Matt Faddes and the Smiths. It sounds like a name for a 1950s American Doo-wop band.
Faddes, Aaron and Ben Smith were singing from a different hymn sheet as the Highlanders struck late to beat the Reds in Dunedin.
The win makes it two from two to open the 2019 season for Aaron Mauger’s team after opening the campaign with a 27-30 victory away to the Chiefs in Round One.
Earlier, it was the Queensland side who overturned a 12-point second half deficit to lead late in the game, however, the Kiwis dug deep to score late thanks to a powerful performance from their two Smiths, Ben and Aaron.
Rob Thompson, Shannon Frizell and the imperious Ben Smith all crossed in the first half to give the Highlanders a comfortable lead.
Chris Feauai-Sautia and the sublime Moses Sorovi crossed for the Brisbane side before the break to keep their team in the contest.
Faddes, who came on for the injured Thompson, was superb, leading the fightback with a wonderful attacking display.
Ben Smith scored after some Faddes magic, but the Reds hit back with some stunning counter-attacking play.
Izack Rodda and Feao Fotuaika’s tries gave the Reds a slender two-point lead, however, it was not enough as the Australians ran out of gas.
Substitute Dillon Hunt supplied the final dagger.
Home team power into a formidable lead.
Early evening kickoffs are wonderful, especially when the sun is shining and the crowd is singing. The Highlanders play indoors, but the light shone through the glass.
The visitor’s pack started the game with intensity, winning early scrums and disrupting the home team’s lineout.
Bryce Hegarty put the away side on the board with an early penalty, but the Highlanders hit back after a sustained period of pressure.
The Reds’ pack continued their good start by halting the Highlanders’ driving maul, but they could not slow down the opposition’s ball.
Ben Smith went through a gap in the Aussie’s backline, offloading to Thompson, who went over for the score.
Jordan Petaia was lucky not to be sin-binned for a cynical knockdown, which stopped a certain try as the home side had a three on one, out wide.
The Highlanders co-captains opted for the points. Josh Ioane extended the lead to seven with the penalty.
Thompson leaves the field injured and is replaced by Faddes.
Thompson left the field after that solid hit by Sefa Naivalu. Faddes came on for the outside centre, who left the field with some help of the team doctor.
Brad Thorn’s men regrouped. They went down the field using their big ball carriers to set up their first try.
Taniela Tupou, finding himself in the midfield inside the opposition’s 22, drew his man and sent Chris Feauai-Sautia away, under the sticks. Hegarty levelled.
Mauger’s chargers regrouped. Faddes and the two Smith’s started to dominate the game.
The Faddes broke into the 22, the Reds infringed, and from the lineout, the hosts crashed over.
Referee Federico Anselmi did not initially award the try, but his assistant was well placed to see Frizell place the ball on the whitewash.
Some misfortune for the Reds did not help, three minutes’ later.
It was that man Faddes again, combining with Aaron Smith from a lineout to set up Ben Smith’s five-pointer.
The 27-year-old bounced a tackle got up and took another hit. Somehow, he did not score.
The ball was recycled wide to the left. Ioane threw a beautiful long skip-pass to for Ben Smith to score.
The television replay showed that the scrumhalf’s pass to the centre was forward, but the ref missed it.
From 10-all to a two-converted try lead. Thorn’s side could feel aggrieved, but that’s rugby.
Important to score soon afterwards, and on the stroke of halftime.
The Reds hit back after another lineout steal. Samu Kerevi’s crash ball took play up to the halfway line.
Sorovi, who was immense, sent the ball right and through the hands to Sefa Naivalu. The winger threw a wonderful inside pass to his scrumhalf, who put on the afterburners and raced away to score.
The Reds had looked dead on their feet before Sorovi’s try, but the score seemed to elevate them because they came out with inyent after the interval.
The second stanza did not start well, however. It was the home team, to the delight of the noisy support, who found their way over the goal-line.
A solid lineout led to the score. Luke Whitelock to the ball forward before Frizell powered his way over the line for his second, albeit with the help of two teammates.
The 25-year-old back-rower had his third try in less than 80 minutes across the opening two games of the Super Rugby season.
Josh Ioane missed his first kick in 11 but his side had a 29-17 advantage.
Petaia powered his way into the Highlanders’ half with another barnstorming run. He was causing Faddes and Teihorangi Walden problems in the midfield.
The Reds, after 11 phases, won a penalty, but opted for a lineout instead of the points.
Another botched lineout saw an opportunity go begging, however, it led to the best period of play in the match.
Sensational try sees the Queenslanders hunt down the Highlanders.
Josh Dickson broke into the Reds 22 after Faddes had contested Ioane’s high ball, spilling the ball back into the path of his teammates.
Feauai-Sautia hit Walden, stopping a certain try. The centre stayed down, but it sparked a scintillating counter-attack.
The Reds won the ball back and charged their way down the field and into the 22.
Sorovi was instrumental in the score. The No 9, always playing with his head up, popped to the onrushing Rodda.
Nobody could stop the lock scoring. Spare a thought for Rodda and his family. his father had passed away a couple of days before the game, yet he dug deep to play. And boy, did he play.
Not long later, loosehead Fotuaika, on debut, crashed over for his first Super Rugby try. Ioane’s conversion put the Reds back in front.
It was Champagne rugby in the South Island.
Reds revival halted as Highlanders dig deep.
Mauger’s men looked tired, it was they who looked dead on their feet as they stood with hands on their hips, or raised above their heads as they huffed and puffed.
Never count out a Kiwi team. New Zealand franchises – as well as the national side – have an uncanny ability to claim victory from the jaws of defeat.
Their “never say die” attitude and superb conditioning, almost always see them through the final quarter of games.
They were giving away silly penalties and the handling was ordinary, but they found a way.
Li’s break led to another from that man Faddes, which set up Ben Smith.
The fullback was tackled short, but the ball was recycled quickly and sent wide for Hunt to score – game over.
Final score: Highlanders 36 (24) Reds 31 (17)
Tries – Thompson, Frizell (2), B. Smith, Hunt
Pen – J. Ioane
Con – J. Ioane (4)
Tries – Feauai-Sautia, Sorovi, Rodda, Fotuaika
Pen – Hegarty
Con – Hegarty (3), Stewart
Referee: Federico Anselmi
Assistant Ref 1: Nick Briant
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman
TMO: Glenn Newman
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Matt Faddes.
Reds: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Hamish Stewart, 9 Moses Sorovi, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Feao Fotuaika.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas.