Highlanders survive two yellow cards to bank crucial win over Reds
Queensland Reds skipper Tate McDermott has ripped his team’s “embarrassing” defence and complacency after surrendering another lead to hand the Highlanders just their third win of the Super Rugby Pacific season.
The hosts led 12-0 but, for the third straight week against New Zealand opposition, couldn’t seal the deal in a 27-19 loss that’s all but buried their hopes of a top-four finish and home final.
The Highlanders copped two overlapping yellow cards in the early stages, giving the Reds a brief two-man numerical advantage they looked to have made the most of.
But the visitors hit back late in the first half – Thomas Umaga-Jensen slipping five tackles to score out of nowhere – and then had a lead nine minutes into the second half.
Coach Brad Thorn lamented their poor defensive mindset and “another wasted game”, admitting the ruthless visitors had shown them how to close out a contest.
But McDermott was far more scathing.
“The complacency … 12-0 up, we had worked so hard for our points … to have someone walk through our line, it’s embarrassing really,” he said.
“We’re switching off in those moments, in those money minutes either side of halftime we’re opening the door.”
The Reds (7-4), who were crowned domestic champions last season, now boast just two wins from their last 25 games against New Zealand opponents.
Injuries have not helped their cause, with Harry Wilson knocked out and taken from the field on the medi-cab attempting to regather a brilliant Jordan Petaia grubber after a linebreak early in the second half.
They were sorely missed when the Reds needed to steady and build on a solid start, a bench including ring-ins Sef Fa’agase and Albert Anae unable to match the output of their rivals.
McDermott said O’Connor, who could return to face the top-of-the-table Blues at Eden Park next week, was a tough man to replace.
But he said his senior backline partners needed to offer more help to Lawson Creighton, who had been “thrown to the wolves” in the last three weeks.
“I’ve got to give better service to him but we have guys out there like (fullback) Jock (Campbell) and how many times did our centres kick tonight?” he queried.
“There’s so much pressure on Lawson to steer the ship for us and I need to help him out more, particularly in those moments when things aren’t going our way.”
First he perfected a neat reverse flick pass back inside for Scott Gregory to stroll over before popping up again to score the match-sealer.
“Folau’s one of our best impact players … Aaron Smith’s had a big shift and we needed energy and impact,” proud coach Tony Brown said.
“He’s unreal … no one plays rugby like he plays rugby; he can beat anyone in a phone box and create for other players.”
The win pushed the Highlanders, who came back to beat Fijian Drua in Suva last week, into eighth and ahead of the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels.
– Murray Wenzel
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