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By Reds Media Unit
The St.George Queensland Reds have recorded their first four-try bonus point victory of the season with a hoodoo-breaking 34-33 Super Rugby win over New Zealand’s Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday night.
There was plenty to celebrate from the Reds’ historic four tries to three triumph with the win Queensland’s first victory in Dunedin since 1981 and also the Reds maiden win over the Highlanders on New Zealand soil since the inception of Super Rugby in 1996.
The thrilling victory was also a fitting way to recognise a number of individual milestones with Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie becoming the most capped Super Rugby coach in history with 121 games, while centre Anthony Faingaa had a standout game in his 50th game for Queensland.
Flyhalf Quade Cooper was another to produce a strong performance with his 14 points scored putting him on 501 career Super Rugby points, joining fellow playmaker Elton Flatley as the only two Reds players to surpass the 500-point mark.
The bonus point success puts the Reds in a strong position with five wins from seven Super Rugby matches this year and they will now pick up a guaranteed four competition points during next week’s bye before travelling to Hamilton to take on reigning champions, the Chiefs, on April 13.
McKenzie said he was pleased that the Reds accomplished their goal of breaking their long-standing losing drought against the Highlanders in New Zealand.
“We’ve ticked off another important milestone and it was the one we were chasing. To also come away with a bonus point is fantastic,” McKenzie said.
“In previous games we’ve been creating plenty of opportunities but not finishing them off. Tonight, our finishing improved and we got a reward for our attack.
“Coming into this game we had five guys pull out through injury on what was already a shortened week after the Bulls game, so to recover and get a result was very pleasing.
“It was a tight game, but also a good game of Rugby from both teams. The referee did a good job of keeping the game going and it led to plenty of attack and end-to-end Rugby.
“Going into the bye you would obviously love to be undefeated but that’s rare in this competition. We are pretty pleased with our work to date and five wins from seven games has given us a good platform to work from.
“We know we can still improve, so we’ll just keep hanging in there and continue to work hard.”
The Reds, who remain undefeated against New Zealand opposition in 2013, secured their first four-try bonus point of the season courtesy of tries to James Hanson, Liam Gill, Jake Schatz and Will Genia.
Captain James Horwill continued his comeback from injury with a dominant 63 minute effort and Genia got through his first 80 minutes of Rugby this year, while prop Ben Daley and winger Rod Davies put frustrating injury layoffs behind them to see their first action in the Reds jersey in 2013.
It took just six minutes for the Reds to cross for their opening try when Hanson took advantage of a Cooper linebreak down the right flank, giving the visitors an early 7-0 lead.
The Highlanders clawed their way back into the contest through two Colin Slade penalty goals before they found themselves in front when a try to No.8 Elliot Dixon gave his side a 13-7 lead after a quarter of the game.
It took just four minutes for the Reds to respond, when they were rewarded for rejecting two potential penalty attempts at goal with Gill the beneficiary of a strong rolling maul.
The Reds crossed for their third try of the half when Genia produced a brilliantly timed cut-out pass to Schatz, who dived over under the posts to give Queensland a 21-13 lead.
The Reds defence was equally as impressive and produced a strong goal-line stand to repeal the Highlanders for 16 phases just before halftime although a scrum penalty after the siren saw the Highlanders narrow Queensland’s lead to 21-16 at the break.
It was in the 52nd minute that the Reds crossed for their fourth try when a well-designed five-metre scrum play allowed Genia to score under the posts.
The Highlanders narrowed the deficit to 31-30 with 12 minutes remaining courtesy of tries to winger Hosea Gear and centre Ma’a Nonu while further penalty goals to both teams put the match in the balance at 34-33 with under six minutes to go.
It was a grandstand finish to an enthralling encounter but the Reds character and fighting spirit again shone through as they held off the fast-finishing Highlanders for a historic win.
Following the Chiefs match in Hamilton, the Reds return to Suncorp Stadium on April 20 for a blockbuster Australian Conference match-up against the ACT Brumbies. Tickets are on sale through Ticketek.
St.George Queensland Reds 34 (James Hanson, Liam Gill, Jake Schatz, Will Genia tries, Quade Cooper 4 cons, 2 pens) def Highlanders 33 (Elliot Dixon, Hosea Gear, Ma’a Nonu tries; Colin Slade con, 3 pens; Lima Sopoaga 2 cons, pen)