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Brisbane, Australia – Defending champions Queensland Reds remained in the hunt for a playoff spot in Super 15 rugby with a 19-13 win over the Otago Highlanders on Friday.
Queensland are in second place in the Australia conference, one point behind the ACT Brumbies, who have a chance to extend their lead when they play New South Wales on Saturday in Sydney.
The Highlanders, in fourth place in the New Zealand conference, have no chance of making the six-team playoffs. With a bye next week in the final regular-season round, their season ended on Friday with the loss.
The Reds almost gave up a 16-point second-half lead before escaping with a win following three minutes of strong defence before fulltime.
The Highlanders attacked the line for multiple phases but a string of key tackles, including two by Man of the Match and Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper, saved the match before Jake Schatz produced a ruck turnover.
“It was a frustrating way to end the game, a turnover was not good ... very disappointing to end the season this way,” said Highlanders captain Jamie Macintosh.
A fifth straight win moves the Reds into the top six with just a last-round match against New South Wales remaining. A loss could have dropped the Reds to eighth place overall.
Cooper, growing in confidence in his fourth match back from knee surgery, was a standout to indicate he's back near the form which took the Reds to last year's title. He regularly took on the advantage line, muscled up in defence and threw some signature spiral passes that put his teammates into space.
The goalkicking of Mike Harris, who slotted five from six, was also crucial for the Reds as they scored one try to the Highlanders' two.
The Reds looked like easy winners when James Slipper was rewarded for a strong display with a 57th-minute try in the right corner for a 16-3 lead. But the Highlanders came back with tries to Adam Thomson and Chris King following concerted pressure to close the gap to six points with six minutes left.
Missed conversions cost the visitors – it meant they needed a converted try at the end to win instead of a penalty goal, which they could have taken.
“Credit to the Highlanders, they put a lot of pressure on us at the end,” said Reds captain Will Genia. “We show a lot of character to hold on.”
Queensland 19 (James Slipper try; Michael Harris conversion, 4penalties), Otago 13 (Chris King, Adam Thomson tries; Michael Delany penalty). HT: 6-3. – Sapa-AP