Crusaders break Reds hearts in thriller

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

He was their best player all night but a Samu Kerevi penalty at the death has cost the Reds victory against the Crusaders, as they fell 22-20.

In typical Crusaders fashion, the only time they led was after the final siren had rung out across Suncorp Stadium.

The visitors were also without three of their best players for the entire second half - as Israel Dagg, Seta Tamanivalu and Pete Samu all were lost to seemingly serious injury - in what was a vintage Crusaders comeback.

Leading 20-19 and with the ball in hand inside their own half, the Reds tried to soak up too much time and Kerevi was penalised for sealing off the ball 35 metres out from his own line with 30 seconds to play.

Jeers rung out as Crusaders flyhalf Mitchell Hunt cooly slotted the ensuing penalty - breaking the hearts of the 17,931 strong crowd.There was plenty of feeling out there tonight. Photo: Getty Images

It was a dubious penalty awarded by referee Will Houston but the Reds will be rue at least two certain tries they botched in the first term.

Nick Stiles did not mince his words when asked about the penalty post match.

"The way the referees referee, they're looking for a penalty in that situation when you're trying to burn the clock and we overplayed our hand," he said.

"We should have kicked earlier."

It took three weeks but the Reds that were expected to arrive against the Sharks in round one finally turned up in the first half, as the home side dominated possession, territory and created several attacking opportunities.

Scott Higginbotham couldn't quite stretch out to the tryline. Photo: Getty ImagesThe inclusions of Izaia Perese, Izack Rodda and Hendrik Tui all proved to be masterstrokes from Stiles, as the trio all made their impact known from the outset.

Stiles and the players alike have preached the importance of sticking to simple rugby after a confused attacking performance against the Force and they scored the first try the best way they know how - by giving the ball to Kerevi in space.

After blowing a pair of try scoring opportunities in the first 10 minutes, Kerevi ran straight over the top of Jack Goodhue and lunged out to score the first five pointer of the night.

The fluoro orange boots of Perese worked as desired, as he powered his way to 37 metres, two line breaks and three tackle busts in the first 40 minutes with his fast-stepping feet.Karmichael Hunt is playing his best rugby in a Reds jersey at the moment. Photo: Getty ImagesThe inclusions of Rodda and Tui also made an immediate impact, as the pair racked up run after run which put the Reds over the gain line and provided clean ball for Quade Cooper and Duncan Paia'aua.

Tui was particularly dominant - reminding Reds fans of his 2016 form with damaging runs and big hits on the defensive side of the ball.

The 10-12 combination is starting to sing and Karmichael Hunt is playing his best rugby since arriving at Ballymore in 2015, often working off the shoulder of his flyhalf to draw Crusaders defenders in and open up space for the brilliant Kerevi.

The clock had just ticked past 24 minutes when some superb Stephen Moore hands put Kerevi through another hole - the centre spinning around Codie Taylor before offloading to Eto Nabuli, who ran away for his fourth try in two starts.

Israel Dagg looks to have suffered a knee injury. Photo: Getty ImagesAs they always seem to do, the Crusaders hit back through Mitchell Drummond in the 28th minute but Cooper's radar off the tee was on song - adding to the lead with his second penalty of the night to ensure a 20-7 half-time lead.

An all-in push and shove sparked the second half with 52 minutes on the clock, though referee Will Houston deemed there to be no foul play.

The ensuing Reds scrum penalty was followed by a vintage Quade Cooper cutout across the face of the defensive line to put Scott Higginbotham away but the loping flanker was cut down 15 metres out from the Crusaders line.

Nick Frisby and the Reds dominated the first half. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Reds turned the ball over but it was Tui that shone immediately after, stopping an impending counterattack with a rib-tickling hit that jolted Ben Funnell's grip on the ball.

The collective heart rate of the Suncorp crowd was sent soaring when the Crusaders made it an eight point game through a Bryn Hall try in the 63rd minute.

The replacement halfback put Mitchell Hunt away down the left hand sideline, who passed to George Bridge before Hall re-collected the ball to run away and score.

Just as the Crusaders looked to have turned momentum around Jordan Taufua had a scrum penalty reversed and was sent to the bin in the 69th minute after throwing a punch at Rob Simmons.

But the Reds could not convert pressure into points and the moment proved pivotal.

The Crusaders marched down the other end and Hall nabbed himself a double with 76 minutes gone - smartly placing the ball against the goal post to make it a 20-19 ball game with four to play.

The aforementioned penalty followed, breaking the hearts of the Reds players and fans alike.

RESULT

Reds 20

Tries: Kerevi, Nabuli

Cons: Cooper 2

Pens: Cooper 2

Crusaders 22

Tries: Drummond, Hall 2

Cons: Hunt 2

Pens: Hunt

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