The Queensland Reds may have good reason to feel hard done by after a controversial loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin.
The Highlanders scrapped through in the final minute to go from a two-point deficit to a five-point advantage when Folau Fakatava scored the decisive try.
It sent the stadium famous for its ‘zoo’ of students wild in what was the final appearance for All Blacks legend Aaron Smith at home.
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The result might have looked a lot different if an apparent forward pass was missed by the referee.
Clumsy try takes Highlanders into the lead
Freddie Burns appeared to offload the ball forward to Jona Nareki, but play continued.
The ball was dropped twice shortly thereafter, both called “backwards” by the referee.
“That looked slightly forward,” noted Stan Sport commentator Scotty Stevenson.
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Seconds later, Connor Garden-Bachop scored the try that got the Highlanders in front after the conversion.
The try drew some questions from Karl Te Nana.
“I tell you what though, I don’t know… I don’t know about this,” said Te Nana.
“Mitch Hunt, we’ll have to have a look at this. I’d like to have a look, I think there was a knock-on. There’s question marks for me.”
Highlanders steal dramatic victory at the death
No review was forthcoming and the conversion was taken by Sam Gilbert, who got the Highlanders at that point to a 28-27 lead.
Tomy Lynagh slotted a penalty goal for the Reds with five minutes to go to retake the lead at 28-30 before the last-gasp effort from Fakatava to seal victory.
The loss was arguably the Reds own doing after Hunter Paisami dropped the ball cold and handed over possession – eventually leading to the game-winning try the other way.
The loss overshadowed a late contender for Super Rugby Pacific try of the year after an incredible run from their own goal line to the opposite end.
Harry Wilson found a gap in the Highlanders’ defensive line before selling a dummy to continue storming towards the try line.
Wilson offloaded to James O’Connor on his outside before he was nearly put into touch, releasing the ball just millimetres inside the field of play.
Tate McDermott picked up the scraps before a series of off-loads wound up with Jake Upfield scoring.
The try drew accolades from the Stan Sport commentary team, hailing it the best of the year.
It was the highlight in a close-fought and bruising win for the Reds, who opened the scoring in the eighth minute.
Liam Wright burst through for the first try but was left wincing in pain with a dislocated shoulder, ruling the co-captain out of the contest just eight minutes in.
Highlanders star’s epic solo effort
After the barn-storming effort in the 12th minute, the Highlanders finally got on the board when Jona Nareki found a gap.
Hugh Renton levelled the score at 14-apiece when he went alone off the back of a five-metre scrum.
The sides looked like they might go into the half-time break on an even keel until Suliasi Vunivalu split the Highlanders’ defence in the 41st minute.
The Reds extended their advantage just a few minutes into the second half thanks to a penalty, making it 24-14, and that became 27-14 after another infringement in front of the posts.
The Highlanders fought their way back into the contest thanks to Saula Ma’u, who scored his first Super Rugby Pacific try, to bring the scores back to 27-21 in favour of the visitors.
Gardon-Bachop’s try followed before Lynagh’s penalty goal and then the decisive Fakatava try.
It was a fairytale finish for Smith but an agonising end to the night for the Reds who lost captain Tate McDermott to concussion.
Several more players went off for head injury assessments (HIA), clouding the team’s line-up for their round 15 match against the Fijian Drua.
It’s a boost for the Highlanders and their top eight hopes, having come into the penultimate round in ninth behind the Western Force to play the Rebels on Friday.
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