The Reds mounted a stirring fightback to snap the Chiefs’ nine-game winning streak with a 42-27 victory yesterday that keeps their Super Rugby title defence alive.
The Reds recovered from a 22-8 deficit shortly before halftime to stun the Chiefs with four tries in 10 minutes at Lang Park and retain hope of sealing a play-off berth.
The bonus-point win left the home side trailing the ACT Brumbies by eight points in the Australian conference, while also keeping them in touch with the top six.
The three conference winners from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa automatically qualify for the post-season of the southern hemisphere provincial competition, with the three next best teams taking wildcard spots.
The match was not without controversy, however, with officials failing to penalise a tip tackle by Reds fullback Luke Morahan that would normally result in an automatic yellow card.
Morahan stayed on the field to make two try-saving tackles in the last 10 minutes when he could well have been watching the conclusion from the sin-bin.
“It was a really good outcome,” Reds skipper James Horwill said in a pitchside interview.
“We had to really give it to them at the start of this (second) half ... and credit to the guys, we got on a roll and just kept it going.”
The Chiefs took control of the match at the half-hour mark with a ferocious burst of three tries sparked by the rampaging Sonny Bill Williams.
The muscular inside centre jogged under the posts in the 31st minute to cancel out winger Dom Shipperley’s fifth-minute try, then had a hand in a lightning quick chain of passes that ended with flanker Liam Messam’s try two minutes later.
Prop Arizona Taumalolo made it 22-8 a minute before halftime, snatching the ball out of the ruck near the line and barging over to leave the Reds reeling.
The hosts recovered brilliantly, however, waving away the chance of a penalty after the whistle to score a try in the 42nd minute through pure grit, with scrumhalf Will Genia shipping a long ball wide to flyhalf Ben Lucas, who beat his tackler for the Queenslanders’ second try.
Flying number eight Scott Higginbotham touched down after taking a quick pass from a ruck near the line a minute after the restart.
Genia then had the crowd of 36000 at Lang Park roaring their approval seven minutes later, when he sprinted 60 metres to the left corner to leave a clutch of defenders in his wake.
Saia Faingaa made it 34-22 three minutes later by planting the ball over in the right corner after the Reds turned the Chiefs around in a scrum.
Chiefs fullback Andrew Horrell buoyed the visitors by setting up winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma for a try in the 59th minute on the left, but the Reds responded with a crafty drop goal from Harris in the 64th minute.
Morahan dragged replacement back Robbie Robinson into touch on the last line to save a certain try in the 72nd minute and after Harris slotted a late penalty goal, the fullback repeated his defensive heroics by stopping Taumalolo on the left wing after the prop appeared try-bound with three minutes to go.