Highlanders break Queensland hearts in Dunedin

Fri, May 26, 2023, 10:30 AM
Reds Media Unit
by Reds Media Unit
Tom Lynagh kicks for goal in Dunedin. Photo: Getty Images.
Tom Lynagh kicks for goal in Dunedin. Photo: Getty Images.

The Queensland Reds have fallen in heartbreaking fashion to the Highlanders in Round 14 of Harvey Norman Super Pacific, a try in the final minutes seeing Queensland defeated 35-30.

The Reds surged out of the gates to lead 14-nil by the 12th minute, before the hosts fought back late in the second-half.

Battling a number of injuries with both co-captains Liam Wright and Tate McDermott off the field, Tom Lyangh looked to have kicked the Reds to victory with a mammoth penalty goal in the 75th minute, before a late try to Folau Fakatava saw the Highlanders seal a memorable five-point win at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Queensland claimed a bonus-point in the loss, setting up a crucial final round clash against the Fijian Drua in Suva next Saturday.

Wright opened the scoring for Queensland but injured his shoulder in the process, the co-captain steaming onto a deft James O’Connor inside ball to give the Reds their first try. Lynagh made no mistake with the conversion to make the score 7-nil after eight-minutes.

Jake Upfield quickly extended the lead to 14-nil with a try of the year contender, the Bond University backrower finishing off a 90-metre team effort after Harry Wilson broke the line from well within his own half. Wilson dummied his way through the defence and dashed away before finding James O’Connor, who miraculously kept the ball in play for Upfield to eventually finish the sequence and cross for his first Super Rugby try.

A courageous McDermott cover tackle kept the hosts from crossing for their first points of the night, but the Highlanders soon opened their account through Jona Nareki.

A Hugh Renton try saw the home side even the ledger in the 26th minute, before Suliasi Vunivalu strolled over the line on the stroke of half-time to put Queensland back into the lead. Vunivalu charged onto a Matt Faessler short ball for his side’s third, with Lynagh’s conversion giving the Reds a 21-14 advantage at the break.

A pair of Lynagh penalties extended Queensland’s lead to 13-points at 27-14 with 22-minutes to play.

Highlanders prop Saula Mau crossed to cut his sides’ deficit in the 60th minute, Sam Gilbert continuing his perfect form off the tee to bring the score to 27-21.

The home side took their first lead of the night in the 68th minute, Connor Gardon-Barchop scoring and Gilbert slotting his fourth conversion of the night to put his team into a 28-27 lead.

A clutch 45-metre Lynagh three-pointer saw the Reds regain their advantage at 30-28 with five-minutes to play, but it wasn’t to be for Queensland, Fakatava scoring out wide and securing his side a 35-30 win.

Queensland are back on the road next week in a do-or-die clash with the Fijian Drua in what is the final regular season round of Super Rugby Pacific. The Reds take on the Drua at 2:35pm AEST on Saturday 3 June.

Highlanders 35
Tries: Jona Nareki, Hugh Renton, Saula Mau, Connor Gardon-Barchop, Folau Fakatava
Conversions: Sam Gilbert 4, Freddie Burns
Queensland Reds 30
Tries: Liam Wright, Jake Upfield, Suliasi Vunivalu
Conversions: Tom Lynagh 3
Penalties: Lynagh 3

At Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, on Friday 26 May, 2023.

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