Queensland finally win in deep south
March 29, 2013
Quade Cooper was influential for the Reds
© Getty Images
Quade Cooper Elliot Dixon Hosea Gear Will Genia Liam Gill James Hanson James Horwill Chris King Ma'a Nonu Jake Schatz Colin Slade Brad Thorn Tony Woodcock
Queensland Reds have claimed their maiden Super Rugby victory in the far south of New Zealand, but they endured a nervy final 10 minutes after seeming likely to run away with victory.
The Reds led by 15 points when Quade Cooper converted Will Genia's try 13 minutes into the second half, the scrum-half sniping through a chasm in the hosts' defence from an attacking scrum, but the Highlanders then found pace and power that had been lacking in their performance.
Highlanders fans entered this season full of hope after signing big names such as Tony Woodcock, Ma'a Nonu and Brad Thorn in the off-season, but those experienced IRB Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks are each in the twilight of their career and the Dunedin-based hosts seemed to be slipping further off the pace each week.
The Highlanders seemed inspired by the thought they had nothing but pride to play for as their season disappeared from view just seven rounds into the campaign, and they improved collectively in the final quarter. They scored tries through Hosea Gear, one of their few shining lights this season, and Nonu to set Queensland nerves jangling, but the Reds withstood the surge to claim their history-making victory.
The Reds now have five wins from seven games while the hapless Highlanders have only a bonus point to their name after their fifth consecutive loss - and their positions on the ladder are a fair reflection of their current standing in the game.
Queensland Reds showed great spirit to resist the charging Highlanders (video available only in Australia)
The Highlanders kicked off buoyed by the knowledge they had won nine of 16 games against the Reds in Super Rugby, and knowing that Queensland had not won in Dunedin since defeating Otago in 1981.
But the Reds made the better start, hooker James Hanson stretching out to score after five minutes following a break by Cooper, who converted to make it 7-0. The Reds were dominant with the ball - Ben Tapuai, in particular, making easy metres - but the Highlanders soon led 13-7 through the accurate kicking of Colin Slade and a try by the posts from Elliot Dixon, the No. 8 barging over from a quick tap penalty after a mazy run from Buxton Popoali'i.
Andrew Hore's time in the sin-bin proved costly for the Highlanders © Getty Images
The Reds regained the lead after 25 minutes, Liam Gill scoring a converted try from a five-metre lineout, and they extended it after Highlanders captain Andrew Hore was sin-binned for slowing the ball down after 28 minutes; No. 8 Jake Schatz crashed over under the posts, Cooper converted, and the Reds led 21-13.
Centre Jason Emery made a fine run for the Highlanders htat would have yielded a try but for a desperate tackle by tight-head prop James Slipper, but Slade kicked his third penalty on the stroke of half-time to make it 21-16.
The second spell started with the Reds backs and forwards claiming Highlanders' territory, and Cooper kicked a penalty to extend the lead to 24-16 before Genia scored the visitors' bonus-point try.
The Highlanders struck back after Ben Smith made an incision, Popoali'i beating two tackles and offloading for Gear to score in the corner. Lima Sopoaga converted, and the Highlanders had hope of an amazing comeback win when Ma'a Nonu crashed through poor defence on an cutback angle to score under the posts from a scrum move.
Sopoaga converted, and the reds led by just one point, 31-30, but the Reds gained the breathing space they needed when Cooper kicked a penalty from almost 40 metres to extend the lead 10 minutes from full-time. Sopoaga kicked a 47-metre penalty three minutes later, but the Highlanders could not get back into scoring position and the reds held on.
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand with Sportal
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