The Queensland Reds have held on by a single point to score an emotional 29-28 victory over the Blues at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The Reds were playing their last match in front of their home fans and were looking to make it four-of-eight this season at home. The Blues drew with the Bulls last round in Auckland and were keen to notch up their first win in three weeks.
Early on, the Blues managed to steal the ball at the ruck when Filipo Daugunu fell awkwardly in the tackle. The Blues looked to counter-attack and made it into the Reds 22 where they looked to strike early. Their patience eventually payed off when Blake Gibson managed to push through the tackles of Liam Wright and JP Smith to score for the visitors. Otere Black’s conversion made it 7-0 inside the first five minutes.
The Reds looked to hit back and worked their way into the Blues red zone until Taniela Tupou was pushed into touch close to the line.
The Blues looked to extend their lead as they pressed the Reds once again. A scrum penalty and then a maul penalty meant they strode deeper and deeper into the Reds’ half off the back of Reds’ infringements. The clinical Blues forward pack worked hard in tiring the Reds defence before releasing it wide.
From a ruck in midfield, the Blues spread through TJ Faiane on the left. Akira Ioane offloaded in the tackle to Dalton Papali’i who did the same to put Tanielu Tele’a away on the left. He skipped away from Jock Campbell and stepped inside Daugunu to slide in for the away side. Black’s second conversion of the night made it 14-0.
The Reds hit back almost immediately though through veteran, Scott Higginbotham.
Reds’ scrum half, Scott Malolua, managed to secure scrappy ball at the back of a ruck and sent it out to the backs. Inspirational skipper, Samu Kerevi, found himself with the ball in hand and got through Faiane before offloading in the tackle of Tele’a.
The pass found right-winger, Jock Campbell who accelerated with the ball in hand. He managed to draw in all three remaining Blues defenders before releasing a brilliant pass out the back to Higginbotham. Higginbotham strolled in for a comfortable try, the fortieth of his Super Rugby career. Hegarty’s unsuccessful conversion attempt left the margin at nine points.
But the Blues undid the Reds good work by hitting back straight away.
Securing possession on halfway, the Reds defence failed to match-up correctly as Ma’a Nonu burst through a gaping hole on halfway. He fired an excellent bullet pass inside to Augustine Pulu who outpaced his opposite number, Malolua, to score again for the Blues. An easy conversion for Black saw the score push out to 21-5.
The Reds were in danger of being left behind and had to get themselves back into the match.
They drew out multiple penalties from the Blues forcing referee, Brendon Pickerill, into placing the Auckland side on last warning for a yellow card. During a Reds attacking onslaught, the Blues infringed once again to concede a penalty advantage. The Reds used this however as Taniela Tupou got the legs pumping and barged his way over from close-range. Hegarty’s conversion kept the Reds in it, 21-12.
Hegarty kicked a penalty goal over just moments before halftime and when Malolua cleared the ball into touch after the siren, the score stood at 21-15 in favour of the Blues.
The Reds scored first in the second half as they burst out of the blocks.
Malolua had a scoot from the ruck and drew in two defenders before putting Matt McGahan away on the left. He made it up to the 22 and with options inside and out, he chose to pick out Hegarty on the left touchline who cruised home for a cracking fifty-metre try. Hegarty’s conversion meant the Reds took the lead for the first time in the match.
The Blues didn’t allow the lead to stand for long though as they continued to put pressure on the Reds try-line.
In the 47th minute, the Blues had the Reds on the back foot as they rolled towards the chalk. Right under the posts, Pulu spotted an unmarked patch of turf and jumped over for his second of the night. Black had no problems with the simple conversion, the margin restored to six points.
In somewhat controversial circumstances (depending on which side of the fence you were sitting on), Pulu was denied a hat-trick for not releasing the ball.
Pulu broke the line and charged towards the posts. He was brought down centimetres from the chalk before getting up and bouncing over for what seemed like a try. The referee sent it upstairs and deemed Pulu to have not clearly released the ball before getting to his feet, resulting in a Reds penalty instead of a try.
The Reds looked to capitalise on this lucky break and made their way deep into the Blues’ half. More penalties conceded by the visitors saw Brendon Pickerill lose his patience and hand Papali’i a yellow card for another infringement at the ruck.
Despite some blown chances, the Reds eventually made it work.
Inside the 22, McGahan delivered a cut-out pass to replacement back, Duncan Paiaua who left Harry Plummer in his wake and sucked in Matt Duffie. He handed it off to Higginbotham who cantered home for his second try of the night. With less than three minutes left on the clock, Hegarty successfully put over the conversion. The Brisbane crowd roared in approval as they sensed a come-from-behind win.
The Reds looked to run down the clock but Gibson scored a crucial turnover at the breakdown to give the Blues one final sniff. The Blues looked to string together some consistent phase-play but it was Liam Wright, once again, with the important steal at the tackle for the Reds as he claimed it back for the home side. The siren sounded and Moses Sorovi punted it into the stands to end the match 29-28 to the Reds.
An emotional match for Kerevi who is likely to head to Japan at the end of the season. He was visibly emotional and teary after his last match for the Reds at Suncorp Stadium (for the moment) as he reflected on what has been an incredible season for him so far.
A great win for the Reds to reward their loyal home fans with an exciting win at the death. They travel to Canberra next week to take on the Brumbies in their final match of the regular season.
A heart-breaking loss for the Blues who would have felt that they could have come away with a win had some small moments gone their way. It doesn’t get any easier for the Auckland side who head to Wellington next week to face the Hurricanes.