The Reds served notice that they have no intention of continuing as Vodacom Super 14 wooden spoonists when they edged out the Highlanders 22-16 in a hard-fought opening game in Brisbane on Friday.
Report courtesy of www.superrugby.co.za.
The last time the Reds were in action in the competition was when they were hammered by 90 points by the Bulls at Loftus last May, but this was a different and much more disciplined Reds team than the rabble that were overrun in Pretoria.
They started as if they had a train to catch, scoring two tries for a 12-0 lead within the first 20 minutes, and were never headed in a match which was well short on quality and confirmed the pre-season expectation that both these sides will be nearer the bottom than the top of the final log table.
However, the Reds were unable to sustain their impressive opening quarter, and the Highlanders, very much a no-name brand team now that the likes of Carl Hayman and Anton Oliver have left them, were probably the superior side after that.
They were though unable to finish off the pressure that they applied, and the Kiwis were also caught short when it came to goalkicking. They entered the game without a player who had ever kicked in the Super 14 before and they ended up using three different kickers in the form of Daniel Bowden, Paul Williams, who is the son of former All Black winger Bryan Williams, and Mike Delaney.
The Highlanders might have thought they were in with a chance of winning the game when they profited through a poor Reds defensive lineout throw with five minutes to go. The converted try enabled the Highlanders to claw back to 19-16 after they had looked out of it at 19-9.
The Highlanders immediately went back on the attack, and appeared to have an advantage in numbers when they built up an impressive hand-to-hand attack down the left touchline, but when it broke down the Reds were able to hack the ball through and spent the rest of the match camped in Highlanders territory.
Indeed, the Reds were able to score last, with Clinton Schifcoske slotting a penalty after the hooter to improve the final buffer to six points. Although the Reds have now gone 20 games without scoring a full house of log points through scoring four tries — they scored three in this match — any victory after the travails of last year will be most welcome in Brisbane.
It could easily have gone the other way, however, as the Reds may have enjoyed the rub of the green when it came to TMO decisions, particularly when it came to their second try, scored by Schifcofske in the right-hand corner. Certainly none of the video footage produced conclusive evidence that he had dotted down.
The third Reds try, which came at a stage in the second half when the Highlanders were threatening to break back, also went to the TMO and again there was no conclusive evidence of the score, although on this occasion referee Marius Jonker had been specific in asking to clarify if there was any reason for him not to award the try.
The Highlanders were also disadvantaged by the yellow carding of prop Jamie Mackintosh for a round-arm tackle. It was the touch judges call, and was marginal at best. It forced the Highlanders to play with 14 men just when they should have been capitalising on their superior ruck and maul count.
It was quite a freaky game in that the Highlanders hardly got their hands on the ball in the first 20 minutes, but it was the Reds who were forced to defend for most of the remaining hour.
The Reds led 12-3 at half time and scored their third try halfway through the second half.
Reds – Tries: John Roe 2, Clinton Schifcoske; Conversions: Clinton Schifcoske 2; Penalty: Schifcoske.
Highlanders – Try: Adam Thomson; Conversion: Mike Delaney; Penalties: Daniel Bowden and Paul Williams.Tweet