Two tries to veteran number eight Scott Higgenbotham, a disallowed try to Augustine Pulu and a costly yellow card have given the Reds a 29-28 win over the Blues in Brisbane.
The home side were also helped by a couple of former Aucklanders, who helped end the Blues’ playoff hopes.
The Blues played probably the best rugby of their season in the first 20 minutes of the game, shooting out to a 21-5 lead through tries to captain Blake Gibson, winger Taniealu Tele’a and halfback Pulu. The last one was set up by a brilliant move by veteran Ma’a Nonu, however the Reds stayed in touch with a try to Scott Higgenbotham.
However, someone flicked a switch in the Reds and they dominated the rest of the half. Former Auckland schoolboy star Taniela Tupou smashed his way over in the 33rd minute, then Bryce Hegarty nailed a penalty to cut the gap to 21-15 at halftime. Out in the backs, former Blues first five Matt McGahan was having a fine game against his old team.
Hegarty then opened the second half with a try that he converted, which gave the Reds their first lead of the game. It lasted all of three minutes, though, as Pulu then powered over for his second after good work by the Blues forward pack close to the line.
The recalled halfback was then unlucky not to pick up a hat trick not long after. Gibson made a great steal and then Pulu tore upfield on a 40 metre run to the line, but was adjudged to have committed a double movement that cancelled out the try.
The home side looked destined to take the lead as the game entered the final 15 minutes, but an inspired goal line stand by the Blues shut them out. It did cost them a player to the sin bin, after Dalton Papalii was given a yellow card for persistent team infringements.
It set up a tight finish to a game that started with so many points. The Blues had a chance to shut out the result with a visit to the Reds’ 22 with seven to go, but the ball was turned over and the Reds expertly moved their way up the field. The extra man advantage paid off when Higgenbotham scored his second 15 metres in from touch. Hegarty nervelessly landed the conversion to make the score 29-28.
Reds 29 (S Higgenbotham 2, T Tupou, B Hegarty tries; Hegarty 3 con, pen)
Blues 28 (A Pulu 2, B Gibson, T Tele’a tries; O Black 4 con)
HT: 21-15 Blues