A try to No.8 Jake Schatz two and a half minutes after the siren has seen the St.George Queensland Reds pull off a stunning 38-31 victory over the Highlanders in their Indigenous Round clash at Suncorp Stadium last night.
Fittingly it was inspirational scrumhalf Will Genia who capped a superb performance in his 100th match for the Reds by popping up the final ball to Schatz to score in the 18th phase of a 55-metre move that started in their own half.
It was Schatz’s second try of the night with the Reds scoring five tries, with Curtis Browning, Rod Davies and Dom Shipperley also crossing for five pointers.
Reds head coach Richard Graham praised his team’s efforts.
“The effort from everyone was outstanding. I thought our forwards set an excellent platform tonight and were dominant in the set piece,” Graham said.
“The backs capitalised on a number of opportunities and some of their work in kick chase was superb.
“To go up 21-0 at half time was good reward for that effort, but to then have the belief in each other to go for the try when the game was locked up at 31-all demonstrated great composure and commitment.
“I thought Will in his 100th Queensland cap was a class above, he showed why he is considered the best scrumhalf in the world.
“The group knew that if they continued to work hard and stick tight we’d get a result. I’m pleased for everyone at Queensland Rugby that we managed to get a win tonight at Suncorp Stadium in front of our home crowd.
“Whist we’d like to continue playing and use the momentum of this win, the break comes at a good time for the group as we currently have eight contracted players sidelined by injury.”
The Highlanders started well with all the ball but resolute defence from the Reds kept their line intact.
When the Reds got their opportunity, it was Genia who released Harris down the right touchline. The fullback was pulled down just short but the Reds did well to recycle the ball and eight phases later 20-year-old flanker Curtis Browning burrowed over under the posts for the first try of the night.
Harris landed the conversion and the hosts found themselves up 7-0 after 13 minutes.
Both teams continued to throw the ball around in an entertaining fashion with Genia looking dangerous every time he touched the ball.
Hooker James Hanson went close after a sustained lineout drive before Genia dinked over another little kick in to the right corner.
Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga couldn’t gather the kick and Reds winger Davies was on the spot to ground the ball. Harris landed a superb conversion from the touchline and the Reds were up 14-0 after 31 minutes.
The Highlanders continued to attack but spirited Reds defence saw the hosts win turnover after turnover.
Anthony Fainga’a won another on 33 minutes after a great kick-chase when Highlanders fullback Ben Smith was brought down in his own 22.
Flyhalf Ben Lucas threw a long ball to Genia and the Reds scrumhalf again put in a perfectly weighted chip kick, which Shipperley was there to re-gather and touch down.
Harris again was accurate with the conversion and the Reds were surprised 21-0 leaders.
The Highlanders had more chances as the half wound down but more spirited defence and a great steal from Rob Simmons in a lineout close to the Reds line saw the hosts maintain their lead to the break.
Sopoaga went over for a converted try five minutes into the second half to make it 21-7 but the Reds hit back immediately.
They won a five metre scrum after a mistake from Sopoaga and a superb shove from the Reds pack saw them push the Highlanders eight back over the line where Schatz grounded the ball. Harris was again pin-point and Queensland were out to a 28-7 lead.
A try from a fortunate re-bound to winger Richard Buckman, again converted by Sopoaga, brought it back to 28-14 on 54 minutes.
It was Sopoaga’s last act of the game and his replacement Hayden Parker make it 28-17 with a penalty on 63 minutes.
But the Reds pack was totally dominant now and they won another penalty on 68 minutes, which Harris converted to restore the 14 point lead, 31-17.
It looked like the Highlanders had narrowed the gap on 70 minutes but Ben Smith’s try was dis-allowed due to an illegal hit by centre Malakai Fekitoa on Fainga’a back up field.
With four minutes remaining giant Highlanders winger Patrick Osborne sprinted away for a long range intercept try and Japanese reserve scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka dove from close range with a minute remaining. Parker converted both tries with ease to set up the thrilling finale.
The Reds now have a break for the June Test series before they return on Friday June 27th when they take on the Rebels in Melbourne.
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