The Crusaders recorded yet another bonus-point victory in this season's Super 14, recording a 27-21 victory over the Reds, although the Reds will feel they blew a golden opportunity.
Leading 21-8 with just sixteen minutes to go the Reds seemed to be in control against a Crusaders side who were failing to fire. That was until Digby Ioane was sent to the sin-bin, although he should consider himself lucky it was not a red card, and the Crusaders finally made their pressure tell.
The game started and finished in the same manner, with the Crusaders throwing everything at their valiant hosts. Yet in between all that we were witness to a truly remarkable display from the hosts, languishing at the wrong end of the table and with nothing but pride to play for.
There will be those who attribute the performance to the presence of new Australian coach, and current Crusaders coach, Robbie Deans. There were more than a handful of Australian hopefuls in the Reds side and they certainly went about pressing their respective claims in a fine manner.
Having seen Kade Poki finally break the deadlock after eight minutes the Reds came to life. They had barely touched the ball before Poki scored but when they eventually got their hands on the ball it was used to good effect.
Quade Cooper and Berrick Barnes, who are flourishing as a partnership, combined well with fellow midfield man Morgan Turinui. Several crisp passes later and captain James Horwill was surging for the line, the cover defence came to him but the big second row showed great power to muscle his way over and Clinton Schifcofske popped over the extras.
Suddenly the Reds found some continuity to their game, something that has been missing for the bulk of the season, and they had the Crusaders chasing shadows. It didn't take long for the second try to come, again Turinui was the architect with a clean break through a poor defensive line. His pass was taken on the bounce by the busy Peter Hynes who danced passed three would-be-tacklers and scored under the posts.
It was Robbie Deans who opted to rest several big name players for this game and all of a sudden his decision looked to be backfiring. Kahn Fotuali'i was struggling at scrum-half, often slowing the game down with his inability to provide a quick service to Stephen Brett. The scrum was under pressure too and having looked nigh on invincible for most of the season the Crusaders were starting to creak.
Brett looked to steady the ship with a penalty, which he successfully converted, but still the Reds came in constant waves of organised attack. Their ability to offload in the tackle found the Crusaders wanting on several occasions, and but for some superb work from Richie McCaw the gap would have been far greater.
As it was the Reds extended their lead shortly after half-time, this time Cooper the man to do the damage. The platform was laid by several powerful charges for the line, led by the impressive David Croft, before Cooper brushed off Leon MacDonald to score a vital try. With the conversion added the Reds suddenly started to believe.
But from then on in the tide turned, the likes of Andrew Ellis, Corey Flynn, Ali Williams and Dan Carter - making his first appearance since Round Seven - were introduced. The Reds suddenly found themselves making endless tackles as the Crusaders turned up the heat.
One such tackle, from Ioane, resulted in a yellow card. In that he turned Casey Laulala upside down before driving him, head-first, into the ground he can consider himself lucky that it was only yellow. It was anything but lucky for the Reds though as a minute later Kieran Read was driven over and the Crusaders sniffed an unlikely victory.
Still the hosts tackled anything that came towards them and with just five minutes to go it looked as if they would hold on for a famous victory. Sadly for them it was not to be. The pressure was too much as first Williams crashed over and then moments later Carter got in on the act to break the hearts of Reds fans and players alike.
Man of the Match: For the Crusaders Casey Laulala and Stephen Brett were impressive, as was Richie McCaw. The All Black trio of Williams, Ellis and Carter made a huge difference as well. But in David Croft the Reds have a special player, and it is a shame that they are losing him to retirement. His work-rate is second to none, he tackles relentlessly, he carries with power and is never far from the ball. A standout performance that doesn't warrant to end on the losing side.
Moment of the Match: They were hanging on in there with fifteen men but two yellow cards late on cost the Reds any hope of victory.
Villian of the Match: No questions asked here as Digby Ioane scoops this award for a nasty spear tackle on Casey Laulala.
Tries: Horwill, Hynes, Cooper
Cons: Schifcofske 3
Tries: Poki, Read, Williams, Carter
Cons: Carter 2
Yellow Cards: Digby Ioane - Reds (65th minute - spear tackle), Ben Lucas - Reds (72nd minute - professional foul)
Reds: 15 Chris Latham, 14 Clinton Schifcofske, 13 Morgan Turinui, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Peter Hynes, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 David Croft, 6 Poutasi Luafutu, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Van Humphries, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Coutts.
Replacements: 16 Sean Hardman, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Digby Ioane, 21 Brando Va'aulu, 22 Charlie Fetoai.
Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Richard McCaw (c), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ross Filipo, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 George Whitelock, 20 Andrew Ellis, 21 Daniel Carter, 22 Caleb Ralph.
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Touch judges: Petri Bosch (South Africa), Shaun Moore (Australia)
Television match official: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)
Assessor: Andrew Cole (Australia)