The Queensland Reds edged the Chiefs 40-34 in a pulsating Super Rugby Trans-Tasman clash at Queensland Country Stadium, Townsville.
The Reds survived a late fightback to claim a rare Super Rugby win over the Chiefs – and New Zealand opposition – in north Queensland.
Queensland’s win is also the first by an Australian in the Trans-Tasman showpiece event, which has seen the New Zealand teams win 13 of the 14 Super Rugby matches.
This was the proverbial “game of two halves” as the two teams served up an epic 11-try thriller.
Five tries in the first 40 minutes were followed by six in the next 40 as the sides slugged it out.
The Reds won the first half 33-3, the Chiefs, the second 31-7.
The Brisbane-based side scored five first-half tries. They kept the Chiefs try-less until the 51st-minute, but an incredible fightback by the visitors saw the game come down to the last play.
Clayton McMillan’s side was transformed after the break, scoring five tries in 27 minutes, but time ran out on his charges.
McMillan’s men did earn a losing bonus point, but it will tough to make the grand final after the Blues, Hurricanes, and Crusaders‘ results this weekend.
A penalty try, two tries by Isaac Henry, and scores by Suliasi Vunivalu, and Feao Fotuaika put the hosts 33-3 ahead at the break.
Damian McKenzie kicked the only points for the visitors, who imploded soon afterward.
Chase Tiatia and McKenzie both got carded for different infringements, which led to 22 minutes of madness.
The home team scored four tries and 26 points in those 22 crazy minutes, and a cricket score looked on the cards.
The game looked to be over at halftime, never mind when Filipo Daugunu made it 40-8 with half-an-hour remaining.
But Pita Gus Sowakula, Tupou Vaa’i, Reuben O’Neill, Bailyn Sullivan, Xavier Roe dotted down for the Kiwis: they never gave up.
Daugunu crossed for his team’s only try of the second half, and the Reds survived an all-mighty scare as time ran out on the Chiefs.
It is the first win by Queensland over the Chiefs in their last six Super Rugby meetings.
Such is the rarity of victories over the Waikato franchise that this positive result is only the third in the previous 17 contests.
Controversy and cards cost Chiefs as the Reds took advantage
Despite the sublime display by Brad Thorn’s charges, the game had a couple of controversial moments which changed the outcome.
Chase Tiatia received a yellow card in the 16th-minute for a deliberate knock-down which also resulted in a penalty try for the Reds.
Referee Nic Berry and TMO Ian Smith deemed the fullback’s attempt at an intercept, on his try line, stopped a certain try.
The replay shows the call to be harsh because Tiatia looked to have made an attempt to catch the ball; however, the refs have been consistent with this call all season, so it is the way it is.
The Reds managed to increase their lead to 12-3 on 22 minutes when Henry scored from a superb run and pass by Tate McDermott.
McDermott, who was sensational, put Henry through a hole, but after the scrumhalf passed the ball, McKenzie made contact to the head area of the halfback and was shown a red card.
The red card killed the game as a contest, but again, this is in line with World Rugby rules regarding player safety and welfare.
Queensland run riot, using their extra men to expert effect as the Chiefs imploded
Thorn’s men scored three more tries, two while Tiatia was off, and three when McKenzie left the field.
The game was as good as over after McKenzie’s ejection, or so it seemed.
The Reds took a 30-point halftime lead into the shed, the Chiefs were down and out.
It was the first lead an Australian side has taken against a New Zealand team in 14 Super Rugby Trans-Tasman matches in 2021.
Vunivalu scored while Tiatia was still in the bin, and Fotuaika scored with both Tiatia and McKenzie off the field as the Reds ran the depleted Chiefs ragged.
As the pressure increased, the home team found space in the wide channels and made the visitors pay.
Vunivalu slipped Kaleb Trask’s weak tackle and raced away to score.
McDermott’s quick-tap penalty led to Fotuaika crashing over from close range.
With halftime approaching, Henry walked in for his second after the Chiefs, tiring, ran out of defenders.
Chiefs almost perform a minor miracle but the clock runs out on the Kiwis
Sowakula crossed 11 minutes after the interval, but Daugunu got in on the act before the hour-mark as the hosts brought up the forty-burger.
Vaa’i and O’Neill scored converted tries to make it 40-22 with going into the last 10 minutes.
The two tries perked the visitors up, and they began to string good, sustained attacking phases together.
McMillan’s men also plugged the gaps left by Tiatia and McKenzie’s absence and turned the screw on their hosts.
The Reds messed up a certain score that would have sealed the deal, and they almost paid the price.
Just when you thought the Reds had the game wrapped up, Sullivan and Roe scored two minutes apart to set up a nervy, and thrilling final finale.
Somehow, the Reds hung on at the death; had the game been another five minutes, the Chiefs might have won. Phew.
Final Score: Reds 40 (33) Chiefs 34 (3)
Tries – Penalty try, Henry (2), Vunivalu, Fotuaika, Daugunu
Con – O’Connor (3)
Tries – Sowakula, Vaa’i, O’Neill, Sullivan, Roe
Pen – McKenzie
Con – Trask (2)
Cards – Tiatia (Yellow, 16′), McKenzie (Red, 22′)
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Ref 1: Reuben Keane
Assistant Ref 2: Brett Cronan
TMO: Ian Smith
15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Suliasi Vunivalu, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Isaac Henry, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 James O’Connor (co-captain), 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Liam Wright (co-captain), 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Ryan Smith, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Feao Fotuaika
Replacements: 16 Josh Nasser, 17 Dane Zander, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Seru Uru, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Kalani Thomas, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Ilaisa Droasese
15 Kaleb Trask, 14 Bailyn Sullivan, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Chase Tiatia, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Pita Gus Sowakula, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Mitchell Brown, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Reuben O’Neill, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Zane Kapeli, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Xavier Roe, 22 Quinn Tupaea, 23 Shaun Stevenson