NICK PAWSON watched the defending Super Rugby champions resist a late fightback from the Highlanders to clinch a 19-13 win in Brisbane.
A tightly-contested first half (6-3 at half-time in favour of the Reds) yielded elements of desperation from both teams. The Reds were after maximum points, as were the Highlanders as they both went into this match with outside chances of making the play-offs.
For the Highlanders, that dream is now over. But they only have themselves to blame. It was a match when nuances in possession, territorial gain and goal-kicking accuracy would be decisive and in the first half the home side led those stats, if only marginally.
Backs Quade Cooper and Chris F’Sautia both threatened to score if it weren’t for over-eagerness and a pulled hamstring respectively. As many expected, the game was reduced to a war of attrition.
Half-time replacements Aaron Smith and Radike Samo promised to provide more of a spectacle, but they were merely thrown into the mire. Further tackle infringements from the visitors helped the Reds stretch their lead to 9-3 with 30 minutes left on the clock.
Finally, sustained pressure and some quick ball from the hosts sent James Slipper over in the corner for the first try of the contest. Converted, the Reds finally looked in control at 16-3. But the Highlanders retaliated with a similarly-constructed try of their own, with All Black loosie Adam Thomson getting the honours.
The Highlanders were back in the hunt after grinding out another try, this time replacement Chris King touching down. The visitors camped on the Reds’ tryline in the dying minutes but the hosts did well to stave off a last-minute defeat and get themselves into a play-off spot on the overall log.