The Highlanders added heaps of pain to Reds coach Eddie Jones' already brittle team when they smashed them 33-17 in a Super 14 Round Six match at Carisbrook in Dunedin on Friday.
The Highlanders were far and away the better side. The Reds started the second half well and got close at 18-17 but after that the Highlanders took over and got further and further ahead till eventually the score made sense.
In the process the Highlanders scored four tries for a bonus point while the Reds again had David Croft in the sin bin - his third such sojourn in successive weeks - sad for such a committed player in whom there is lots of effort and no malice.
The match started fast and furious as both sides made the best of every advantage and several turnovers.
The Highlanders scored early and from a scrum. Nick Evans passed inside to left wing Viliame Waqaseduadua. Waqaseduadua flipped and underarm pass to Matthew Saunders who gave Aaron Bancroft an easy run to the line and a try, which Evans converted.
The Reds resorted to lots of pick-n-go and darting intrusions by Andrew Walker. When Ezra Taylor was off-side Berrick Barnes hit the upright with an easy penalty. But when Saunders was penalised at a tackle he goaled. 7-3 after 21 minutes. Almost immediately Evans scored a penalty and then the Highlanders got an excellent try.
Evans grubbered, Bancroft fly-kicked and the Highlanders were at the line where Josh Blackie popped a pass to Lucky Mulipola who had an easy plunge to the line for the try near the posts. Evans missed the easy conversion. 15-3.
The Reds try was the best of the match, astonishing in its smoothness and finesse. It started near touch on their left at their own 10-metre line. Peter Hynes started the running and the ball went with synchronised passing and Walker twice in action till Barnes swept over for the try which he converted. 15-10 which became 18-10 when Bancroft kicked a dropped goal after the Highlanders had gone for an attacking line-out instead of goaling a penalty. That was the half-time score.
The Reds started the second half as if they had a second wind and renewed resolve. They did pick-n-go to within two metres of the Highlanders' line and then turned a penalty into a five-metre line-out. They mauled quickly and John Roe got the try, which Barnes converted. That made the score 18-17 - and ended the Reds' challenge.
Evans kicked a penalty goal and then a tough up-and-under which Walker knocked on. From the scrum Evans broke and the Highlanders were at the line where Croft got a yellow card. The Highlanders turned the penalty into a five-metre line-out and then lost the ball.
But they were soon attacking as James Ryan went on the burst and played to Hoani MacDonald who handed on to Evans.
The try again came from a scrum. Jimmy Cowan gave to Waqaseduadua who dithered and then darted and then gave to Glen Horton who squeezed over in the corner to give the TMO a demanding decision, for Horton was first short, then he was close to touch and then there was the corner post. 26-17
At this stage Croft came back but Barnes went off clutching his shoulder.
The Highlanders carried on attacking. Saunders charged down a Hynes clearance from in-goal. The ball went into touch for a Reds line-out near their own line. They won it under pressure and the clearance produced a line-out six metres from their line. Expected to maul, the Highlanders were clever and fed Toby Morland going to the front., He gave to hooker Jason Macdonald who did some jinking and then lunged over for the bonus point try. Evans converted from far out.
The Reds did have a brief attack and a five-metre line-out but the Highlanders kept their maul static enough to win the scrum.
Man of the Match: Nick Evans had some wonderful touches, Viliame Waqaseduadua was always a handful and Clarke Dermody was full of bustling but our Man of the Match is lock James Ryan who was excellent in the line-outs, did his work in the scrums, ran with speed and direction and once, not his best effort, hoofed the ball a long way downfield.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Bancroft, Mulipola, Horton, MacDonald
Cons: Evans 2
Pens: Evans 2
For the Reds:
Tries: Barnes, Roe
Cons: Cooper, Barnes
Yellow card: David Croft (Reds, 53 - repeated offences at the ruck)
Highlanders: 15 Glen Horton, 14 Lucky Mulipola, 13 Matthew Saunders, 12 Aaron Bancroft, 11 Viliame Waqaseduadua, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Ezra Taylor, 7 Josh Blackie (c), 6 Craig Newby, 5 James Ryan, 4 Hoani MacDonald, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason MacDonald, 1 Clarke Dermody.
Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Kane Thompson, 19 Alando Soakai, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Callum Bruce, 22 James Wilson
Reds: 15 Andrew Walker, 14 Brando Va'alu, 13 Ben Tune, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Peter Hynes, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic Berry, 8 John Roe, 7 David Croft, 6 Mitch Chapman, 5 James Horwill, 4 Ed O'Donoghue, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 Herman Hunt
Replacements: 16 Oli Avei, 17 Ernest Skelton, 18 Cameron Treloar, 19 Tom McVerry, 20 Will Genia, 21 Lloyd Johansson, 22 Charlie Fetoai
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Touch judges: Willie Roos (South Africa), Gary Wise (New Zealand)
Television match official: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Assessor: Kim Eichmann (New Zealand), Sandy MacNeil (Australia)