It was a case of same old, same old as the Reds came up short across the Tasman. (AAP: SNPA/Adam Binns)
Queensland’s hopes of becoming the first Australian franchise to beat a New Zealand side in 2017 have been buried in Dunedin, with a young Reds outfit ending their Super Rugby season with a 40-17 thrashing by the Highlanders.
In Friday night’s first half, they dominated possession but every error the rebuilding Reds committed was brutally punished by the finals-bound Kiwi side.
Adding injury to insult, new Wallaby Karmichael Hunt limped off after just 13 minutes with an ankle problem.
The opening exchanges were promising for the Reds, looking composed through Quade Cooper’s kicking game.
But a simple error was all the Highlanders needed — Liam Squire cutting a path down the left flank before Waisake Naholo barged his way over Eto Nabuli to score the first try.
The Reds were forced to withstand an attacking barrage, with the Highlanders’ forwards charging and the lateral ball movement dangerous. Their line broke again in the ninth minute when James Lentjes fended his way through, the conversion pushing the score out to 14-0.
Queensland settled into the match and had the lion’s share of possession, with the Highlanders happy to use their kicking game to squeeze errors.
Kayne Hammington crossed in the 33rd minute with the conversion pushing the lead out to 21-0.
The Reds needed to find something before half-time and, after dominating possession for the final 10 minutes of the term, they were rewarded when Izack Rodda barged over in the left corner to bring the score back to 21-5.
It took just 90 seconds for the Highlanders to strike back after the break, doing so when Tom Franklin charged down a kick and Tevita Li finished off the movement to score in the corner.
Another error was punished when a loose Hamish Stewart pass went back into the in-goal, cashing in off the five-metre scrum with a penalty try awarded as the Queensland scrum collapsed.
Alex Mafi scored his first Super Rugby try for the Reds in a well-executed maul in the 54th minute.
Li celebrated his double off a cross-field kick in the 58th minute, but a video review showed he had lost control of the ball and the decision was reversed. Ash Dixon made no mistake, though, in the 65th minute to complete the rout.