The Queensland Reds secured their first-ever win in Dunedin and piled more misery on the Otago Highlanders with a wafer-thin 34-33 victory in their Super 15 clash yesterday.
It was Reds fifth win from seven outings, and with a four-try bonus point it keeps them firmly in the top six, while the Highlanders languish at the bottom of the table with no wins to show for their big spending in the off-season.
The decision to splash out on buying veteran internationals Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn and Ma’a Nonu, to boost their All Blacks stocks to nine, has yet to pay dividends and they are the only team to have lost every game.
The Reds, kicking for position then ploughing to the line led 21-16 at halftime with tries to James Hanson, Liam Gill and Jake Schatz, while Will Genia added the bonus point try 13 minutes into the second half.
The Highlanders, who briefly led 13-7 midway through the first half, were restricted to three tries scored by Elliot Dixon, Hosea Gear and Ma’a Nonu.
In the closing quarter they closed to within one point of the Reds, but a match-winning try proved elusive as both sides exchanged penalties in the dying minutes.
In the history of Super Rugby, the Reds had never beaten the Highlanders in New Zealand, but they made clear from the start they wanted that statistic erased from the books.
They patiently worked their way up to the Highlanders line for hooker James Hansen to cross and Quade Cooper to convert for an early 7-0 lead.
The Highlanders struck back with two penalties by Colin Slade, who also converted a deft try by Aaron Smith darting around the side of a scrum, to briefly take the lead.
Although the Reds were not playing to their full potential they were making fewer mistakes than the Highlanders as they struck back with tries to Gill and Schatz, in the countdown to halftime.
A Cooper penalty and Genia’s try pushed the Reds out to a 31-16 lead, before the Highlanders cut back their error rate and made a final push to close the gap.
Converted tries to Gear and Nonu brought the hosts to within one point of the lead with six minutes to play, before they let themselves down again.
Given an attacking lineout close to the Reds line, the Highlanders lost their throw in allowing the Queenslanders the opportunity to kick themselves out of trouble again.