Reds forwards outmuscle the Highlanders to pave way for win

Getty Images

James Mortimer     31 May 2014     Getty Images

The victory will lift Richard Graham's men off the bottom of the table provisionally, while the Highlanders will most likely drop out of the top six at the end of the weekend.

A nine try spectacle probably saw the Reds play one of their best games of the season, in contrast to a Highlanders team that was willing, but second best up front.

The Reds scrum in particular was far too powerful for the tourists on the night, with their forwards splintering the men from the Deep South constantly.

A strong start by the Highlanders saw them throw plenty at the Reds early, looking to break the home outfit early.

However the Reds would hold fast in the early stages, before beginning to begin gaining a slight edge in the territory race.

A couple of hundred early metres on attack from the visitors counted for little, as the Reds booted the ball down the field to put the Highlanders under early pressure.

A relieving penalty allowed Jamie Joseph's team to get out of jail, but the Queenslanders would put together their finest patch of the game.

Mike Harris would spark the attack and would get his forwards on the front foot.

It would be the catalyst for the Queensland pack to take control of the contest.

With a series of pick and goes, eventually Reds blindside flanker Curtis Browning would score the game's opening try, crashing over under the posts.

A Harris conversion would make it 7-0 to the Reds after quarter of a hour.

The two teams were certainly willing to attack, but the Highlanders were making some basic errors while the Reds were stringing phases together.

The Highlanders would constantly run the ball back at the Reds, but the home team were having the better of the forward exhanges, especially in the tight defensive channels.

Eventually another penalty would come against the visitors at the ruck, but while Queensland had the better possession and territory, the men from the Deep South were not without defence of their own.

Not for the first time in the opening half, the Highlanders were able to turn over the ball with the Reds hot on attack.

However the tourists were not playing with the same calm aggression that has been a hallmark of their season so far, and Queensland were gaining the upper hand.

The Highlanders conceded nine turnovers and dropped seven ball in the first half hour.

The Reds would score their second via Rod Davies, who would regather a spilled ball from Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga, who was unable to regather a chip kick.

It was obvious that the Reds were playing with an intensity not often seen this season so far, and were up for this match.

When Will Genia, playing his 100th Investec Super Rugby match, kicked a wonderful wiper to the left side of the Highlanders defence, a screaming Dom Shipperley would regather the ball and score in the 33rd minute despite the best efforts of the backtracking Highlanders defence.

The teams would run into the shed with the home outfit holding a 21-0 lead.

The second half would begin with intense drama, the Highlanders had clearly had a rocket fired at them, coming out frantically which would eventually lead to their first try.

Shaun Treeby, Richard Buckman and Nasi Manu would be involved in the build up, leading to a delighted Sopoaga crossing the Reds tryline.

The comeback was on.

However the Reds would hit back instantly, scoring a powerful forward's try when they destroyed the Highlanders scrum to drive over for their bonus point five-pointer.

It was just the third time in 2014 that the Queenslanders had registered an offensive bonus point.

Despite the flowing tries from the home outfit, the Highlanders would strike back after the referee warned the Reds pack for leaning at the scrum engagement.

It resulted in possession for the tourists, and a grubber kick would bounce of a Reds player, allowing the Highlanders to sweep out to the right resulting in a Richard Buckman try.

The visiting team were clawing their way back, with the score 28-14 with 56 minutes played.

Two tries in the first 16 minutes of the second was clearly giving the Highlanders a boost.

As the second stanza progressed it was clear the visiting team were getting the better of the contest, as coach Jamie Joseph emptied his bench to ensure there would be no second half fade.

The only New Zealand Super Rugby team not to win at Suncorp Stadium however would need to shore up their forward barriers, the Reds scrum was superior to the tourists.

While replacement Hayden Park would strike a penalty over in the 62nd minute, twice in the next five minutes the Reds scrum would earn a penalty, wrestling crucial impetus from the men from Otago.

Harris would strike over his fifth penalty goal shortly after, giving the Reds extra breathing space, 31-17 with 12 minutes to play.

A couple of minutes later, the Highlanders looked to have scored a diamond of a try via Ben Smith, but a reply via the TMO showed that the Highlander appeared to have run obstruction against the Reds defence.

The Reds then surged into opposition territory, but then a stunning finish was on the cards when Patrick Osborne scored an eighty metre intercept try.

Far from finished, the Highlanders, chasing their first Super Rugby Finals Series appearance since 2002, then rolled up the field, and after several phases of forward attack, the visitors scored.

Japanese halfback Fumiaki Tanaka would dive over his forwards to tie the scores, making it 31-31 with barely a minute on the clock.

The Reds then showed why they had been the more purposeful side in the match, playing numerous phases to move half way up the field, leading to a heartbreaking score for the Highlanders as Reds flanker Jake Schatz scored his second.

With the match two minutes into time, a conversion to new centurion Will Genia gave the hosts the seven point win.

Reds 38

TRIES: Browning (13), Davies (28), Shipperley (33), Schatz (47)
CONS: Harris (14), (29), (34), (48), Genia (83)
PENS: Harris (68)

Highlanders 31

TRIES: Sopoaga (44), Buckman (52), Osborne (74), Tanaka (78)
CONS: Sopoaga (45), (53), Parker (75)
PENS: Parker (62)