The Reds scored a comprehensive 31-24 bonus-point win over the Blues in Albany.
Don’t let the scoreline fool you, the visitors led 31-5 heading into the final quarter and thoroughly deserved their victory. The Blues had a chance before kick-off to temporarily head to the top of the table but blew it with a lacklustre showing.
The teams were greeted by wet and windy conditions at the North Harbour Stadium, with the Reds holding the advantage in the opening half.
After four and a half minutes a bizarre incident occurred when the floodlights went out and the players were forced to leave the field for 50 minutes. The Reds were leading 3-0 at the time via a Berrick Barnes penalty, but it was now a case of which team would be able to adapt best and regain the momentum.
The Blues showed their intentions in the first scrum back as they shunted the Reds off the ball, but the visitors dominated territory with the breeze at their backs. Wing Brando Va’aulu botched their best chance as he bobbled the ball over the line after some impressive build-up work by Barnes.
The Blues had their chances as they opted for the pick-and-go to make the yards at close quarters. However, whenever a mistake was made - and there were many - the Reds pinged the ball down field.
It was one of these errors, this time a wayward pass from the Blues, that set up the platform for the Reds to score. Barnes received the ball off the top of a lineout, cut out two attackers with his long pass to fullback Mark McLinden and then got the ball back as he slid over under the posts.
When captain James Horwill crashed over that handed his team a 17-0 lead two minutes before the break, the Reds were in a commanding position. But crucially, ref Vinnie Munro allowed the hosts to take a lineout after the hooter had sounded, and Blues centre Isaia Toeava predictably cruised over.
The visitors had a 12-point advantage, but it should have been more as they missed many opportunities in the red zone.
The Blues substituted the disappointing Tasesa Lavea for Jimmy Gopperth at flyhalf, presumably for his superior his kicking game. But it didn’t work, as fullback Paul Williams’s poor kick was brilliantly countered by the Reds. Slick inter-passing, with Barnes and McLinden again prominent, set up Digby Ioane for the try of the match.
Replacement wing Charlie Fetoai sealed the result and it was again down to a Blues mistake. The hosts surprisingly opted to counter-attack from their own half, but the ball was turned over and fed to Fetoai, who brushed off a high tackle on his way to the line.
Gopperth scored after the siren to hand his team a couple of bonus points, but this was the Reds’ day.
By Grant Ball