Reds finish on a high

The Reds saw off an inspirational second half comeback from the Highlanders to win 38-36 in Brisbane.

The Reds were all but out of the semi-final race – they needed five points, a massive win and a Stormers self-destruction – and they were only intent on carrying on the fairytale season and scoring as many points as possible to keep the play-off dream alive.

They led 24-3 at the break after some stupendous rugby, but in the second half they showed grit and determination. The Landers also deserve much credit – they had nothing to lose as they joined in the contest and entertained the crowd with a comeback that deserved more.

But it was a fitting end to the Reds’ season, and Ewen McKenzie deserves most of the plaudits for inspiring the Queenslanders and providing a blueprint for success.

After the first quarter the Reds claimed three tries as they controlled all the ball in a period of play that showed why they are all of the neutrals’ favourites. In the second minute they cut the Landers open with ease straight off the top of a lineout as Digby Ioane finished.

The Reds’ halfback pair of Will Genia and Quade Cooper have been the main topic of conversation, and again they showed exactly why. Admittedly, the Landers looked disinterested on defence at times, and Genia and Cooper took full advantage. The Reds were determined to run almost everything, as Cooper scorned the penalty preferring to set up Radike Samo as the lock recruit crashed over from a quick tap.

Genia was always causing the initial destruction and Cooper was capitalising. The hosts’ third try was something out of a TV game as Cooper’s final pass looked impossible. The Reds flyhalf made fun of the opposition, his reverse pass of 15m to Peter Hynes defying belief.

Cooper claimed the bonus point try himself, his lunge was also against all improbability.

The Landers were clearly a frustrated outfit,  and a fracas that broke up resulted in Van Humphreys’s yellow card. The Landers’s impotence meant they couldn’t score in the first half, but with six minutes left of the sin binning, they made their opponents pay. In the space of 13 minutes they scored three tries, a combination of Landers’ brilliance and the hosts falling asleep.

The Reds pulled a Jekyll & Hyde performance as they missed an extraordinary amount of tackles and Fetu’u Vainikolo’s second try saw the Landers claim the lead. The contest was a try-fest as both sides’ attack was penetrative, but defence was an afterthought.

Cooper again inspired the Reds, his counter-attack setting up Poutasi Luafutu’s first try. The Landers wouldn’t relent, Chris King claiming what seemed the winner.

Luafutu scored his second off the back of a maul to draw the scores level, and Cooper converted from wide out. That was a fitting end as the Reds pivot showed he has the temperament to go with all the trickery.

By Grant Ball