Super Rugby Notebook, Apr 9: O'Connor praises Reds after Highlanders upset, Savea back with a bang


Matt O'Connor hailed Reds' resolve and a dominant first-half display after they stunned Super Rugby champions Highlanders to finally claim their first victory of the season.

Reds have endured a miserable start to the campaign, which cost head coach Richard Graham his job, but they held off a second-half fightback from previously in-form Highlanders to secure a shock 28-27 win at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.

Highlanders had won five games in a row before travelling to Brisbane, but trailed 28-6 in the second half and were unable to deny Reds an elusive victory despite a vast improvement after the break.

Reds co-interim head coach Matt O'Connor said: "It's certainly the best 40 minutes we put together so far this year.

"In the second half, they were coming at us from every angle. They're the reigning champions, they wanted the four points as much as we did. The ebb and flow isn't always your way. It's about managing those moments."

Hurricanes wing Julian Savea marked his return to the side by scoring a hat-trick in a 40-22 hammering of Jaguares, while Lions were 24-9 derby winners at Sharks to move above them in the South African Group and Bulls hammered Southern Kings 38-6.



Hurricanes 40-22 Jaguares

Savea missed out against Southern Kings last time out, leading to speculation over his fitness and attitude, but the rampaging wing silenced his critics in emphatic fashion. He ran in half of free-scoring Hurricanes' six tries in Cory Jane's 100th game for the franchise as they extended their winning run to four matches at Westpac Stadium.

Reds 28-27 Highlanders

Reds did not resemble a struggling side as they bossed the first half, with tries from Liam Gill, Nick Frisby and Samu Kerevi putting them 22-6 in front at the interval. Two Jake McIntyre penalties gave them a 22-point advantage, which proved to be too much for Highlanders to claw back despite 15 points from Lima Sopoaga, who crossed seven minutes from time to set up a tense finale after Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa had also gone over.

Sharks 9-24 Lions

Lions took charge in the opening stages at Kings Park and never looked back, with Andries Ferreira and Lionel Mapoe scoring the only tries in the first half. A dominant display from the Lions pack and some poor handling prevented Sharks from getting back into the game, with Joe Pietersen scoring their only points from the tee and Elton Jantjies taking his tally to 14 points with the boot, extending the visitors' advantage after the break.

Southern Kings 6-38 Bulls

Three tries in the space of 12 first-half minutes from Jan Serfontein, Jamba Ulengo and SP Marais put Bulls in control, but they were reduced to 13 men just before the break when RG Snyman and Marcel Van der Merwe were yellow carded. Kings were only 11 points behind at 17-6 at the interval, but failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage as Ulengo and Marais helped themselves to doubles either side of a Snyman try.



Gill set the tone for an unexpected Reds win when he scored the opening try after only three minutes. Highlanders could have hit back soon after, but Rob Thompson spilled a pass under very little pressure and Reds went on to take complete control in the first half, ensuring a second-half rally from the champions was in vain.



Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said: "We had 30 missed tackles, we played the whole game without missing ten tackles against the Rebels, that's a reflection of personal preparation and attitude. How we finished the game is irrelevant. In Super Rugby you win games in the second half, but you can lose them in the first half. That's what we did."



Bulls are up to second in the South African Group, one point ahead of Lions and three better off than Sharks. They sit four points behind South African Group leaders Stormers in Africa 1 Conference. Second-placed Highlanders are six points adrift of Australasian Group and New Zealand Conference leaders Chiefs, with Hurricanes just three points behind Joseph's side.