Highlanders

Reds edge Highlanders in thriller

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The Reds ended a frustrating season on a high note with a thrilling 38-36 win over the Highlanders in Brisbane on Saturday.


But the six-tries-to-five win wasn’t enough to lift the Reds into the finals after an inconsistent season which saw them surprise with their good form for most of the campaign only to stumble in recent weeks.


Led by Wallabies hopeful Quade Cooper, the Reds completely dominated the Highlanders, who finished the season with just three wins, early in the match, but then had to come from behind in the dying minutes to snatch victory.


Up 24-3 at the break, with Cooper having a hand in all four of their first-half tries, the Reds found themselves down 36-31 late in the game before Cooper converted Poutasi Luafutu’s second try in the 78th minute to regain the lead.


Otago’s Israel Dagg then had a penalty attempt from beyond halfway to snatch the win after the final siren, but his kick fell just short.


Cooper bamboozled the Highlanders with some outrageous passes in the first half, and it was his quick hands that led to Digby Ioane, in his 50th Super rugby match, opening the scoring in just the second minute with a converted try.


In the 12th minute, the Reds had a second try when their sustained pressure culminated in Radiki Samo reaching over out wide with his right hand after a Cooper pass.


Cooper was tormenting the Highlanders and decided to produce a party trick for the third try, his 20m back of the hand pass enabling Peter Hynes to cross with ease in the 19th minute.


When Cooper himself was able to reach and place the ball on the try line in the 33rd minute – the try confirmed by the video official – the Reds had a commanding lead at the break.


But the Highlanders produced an inspired comeback to run in five tries in the second half, two from Fetu’u Vainikolo.


His first, in the 64th minute, gave the Highlanders an unlikely lead as they stunned the home side.


Luafutu came off the bench to put the Reds back in front with his first try in the 68th minute, before Jason Rutledge jammed the ball against the upright to put the New Zealanders back in front in the 72nd minute, setting up a frantic finale.

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