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Highlanders 40 Reds 19
Highlanders - Gregory, 2 Dixon, Tomkinson, Coltman, Punivai tries; Hunt 5 conversions
Reds - Thomas, 2 Vunivalu try; O'Connor conversion, Hegarty conversion
80 mins - TRY Reds to Suliasi Vunivalu
The Reds have finished with a bang with Suliasi Vunivalu out jumping Punivai to claim his second try of the evening.
Bryce Hegarty converts the try as the siren goes. (HIG 40-19)
The Reds are trying to finish the contest with a bang as they attack inside the Highlanders 22 with under two minutes to play. After seven phases of the attack they win a breakdown penalty and will have a lineout five metres out.
74 mins - TRY Highlanders to Ngatugnane Punivai
The home side have gone back to back. The Highlanders are looking to ram home their advantage with brilliant fast attacking play. After several phases of attack, Gilbert delivers a perfect wide pass to Ngatugnane Punivai who scores impressively in the corner.
Hunt converts the try. (HIG 40-12)
71 mins - TRY Highlanders to Liam Coltman
From the lineout, the Highlanders have produced one of their trademark lineout maul with reserve hooker Liam Coltman crashing over for the bonus point try for the home side.
Hunt converts the try. (HIG 33-12)
The Highlanders have swung the momentum in their favour with Nareki aking another strong run. After five phases, the Highlanders win a penalty and will go for a lineout, which is just five metres out.
Fraser McReight runs onto a great short pass before offloading to Seru Uru who storms downfield into the Highlanders 22 before leaving the ball on the ground. Filipo Daugunu picks it up and looks like he scores but on review, the pass to McReight is forward.
The Reds are building their attack on halfway before Billy Harmon intercepts a Moses Sorovi, pass. He storms downfield but doesn't have the pace and is brought down by Sorovi with a try-saving tackle. The next phase sees the home side give away a breakdown penalty.
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto makes a barnstorming run downfield before offloading to Seru Uru, who is brought down inside the Highlanders 22. The next phase sees the Reds knock the ball on and the home side clear to the Reds 10-metre line.
They build their attack again but after seven phases Sam Gilbert wins a breakdown penalty but Hunt can't find touch and Hegarty makes the home side pay with a long kick down to the Highlanders 22.
The Reds make a meal of the lineout drive with the players from the backline coming too early and referee Ben O'Keeffe has awarded a relieving penalty.
Playing under advantage for the Highlanders being offside, the Reds attack just 10-metres out but the attack comes to nothing and the visitors have a lineout five metres out.
The Reds are slowly swinging the momentum in their favour and win another breakdown penalty. They will have a lineout just inside the Highlanders 22.
The Reds are building the phases of attack on halfway before Mitch Hunt wins a turnover. The Highlanders attack through Nareki who produces a miracle offload to Himeno who offloads.
I'm not sure who he has seen as there is no one there apart from the touch judge and the ball rolls into touch and the Reds have a lineout 40-metres from their line.
50 mins - TRY Highlanders to Ash Dixon
The Highlanders strike straight back with Dixon getting his second. The home side set the lineout drive and it's rolling towards the line before Dixon breaks off the back into a huge hole to score his sides first try of the second half.
Hunt conversion has hit the posts so the try goes un-converted. (HIG 26-12)
46 mins - TRY Reds to Suliasi Vunivalu.
What an amazing try from Suliasi Vunivalu. Playing under advantage for an early drive from a lineout five metres, the Reds find Hegarty at first receiver who puts a cross-field kick over to Vunivalu who outleaps Gilbert to score in the corner.
Hegarty cant convert the try. (HIG 21-12)
From the lineout, the Reds win a penalty and will have a lineout 20 metres out.
The Reds have regathered the kickoff to have the first attacking opportunity of the second half. After 11-phases the Highlanders win a crucial turnover to ease the pressure.
Smith takes it quickly and clears down to halfway for a Reds lineout.
Kickoff - Bryce Hegarty gets the second half underway.
Brad Thorn has run the changes with James O'Connor off for Suliasi Vunivalu.
Nareki is continuing to look dangerous as he puts his head through the defensive line. Aaron Smith puts Hugh Renton in a big hole and he looks certain to score but he puts it down to end the first half.
The Reds have a lineout on halfway just seconds before halftime. It looks like they are through the Highlanders defence but Ben O'Keeffe has called them for obstruction to give the home side one last chance as the siren goes.
The Highlanders make a meal of the kickoff and knock the ball on to give the Reds a scrum with just four minutes before halftime.
35 mins - TRY Highlanders Patelesio Tomkinson
On the stretch and falling to the ground, Hunt produces a terrific offload to put Nareki into a huge hole and is brought down inches short. Smith gets fast ball and produces his trademark bullet pass to put Tomkinson in a gap and he scores in the corner.
Hunt convert the try from the sideline to open up a 14 point lead. (21-7 HIG)
The Highlanders continue to employ the grubber kicks in behind and Hegarty is forced to scramble back and forced into his own in-goal area and it'll be a scrum five metres out.
Tomkins makes a nice run downfield before producing a nice offload over his shoulder to Himeno. The home side continues to attack before Hunt puts a poor grubber in behind and Hegarty can clear into touch.
From the lineout, the home side works a move, which sees Dixon break clear before offloading to Smith but he's smashed into touch just short of the line by O'Connor.
28 mins - TRY Highlanders to Ash Dixon
Playing under advantage for the Reds being offside, Smith delivers a short pass to Hunt off the back of the scrum and he goes inches short.
They string phases together before Ash Dixion picks and goes and burrows his way over.
Hunt converts the try. (HIG 14-7)
The Reds scramble the ball clear and into touch but Gilbert takes it quickly to Nareki. He produces a barnstorming run to break through the defensive line before offloading to Tomkinson but he's forced into touch just short of the line.
What defence from the Reds. co-captain Liam Wright has come through the middle of the maul to get his hands on the ball and collapse it. The visitors will have a scrum on their own line.
The Highlanders continue to attack the Reds line but the rush defence is stifling the home sides attack. O'Connor comes up too quickly in defence and is called offside.
The Highlanders will have a lineout five metres out.
Hunt puts a pin-point grubber kick in behind and it forces Hegarty to clean up and is forced back into his own in-goal area for a five-metre scrum to the Highlanders.
The lineout is messy but the home side finds a way to keep hold of possession. The Reds infringe at the breakdown and Mitch Hunt will give his side a lineout seven metres out.
A lovely short pass from Aaron Smith puts Himeno in a gap to get down to the 10-metre line but the Reds win the ball back at the breakdown.
The visitors continue to keep the ball in hand and after five phases, the home side wins a breakdown penalty and will have a lineout 40-metres out.
The Reds were looking dangerous on the attack and looking a real threat, Filipo Daugunu puts down a simple pass to ease the pressure.
Highlanders will have a defensive scrum inside their 22.
The Reds look to build their attack on halfway but after five phases the attack comes to nothing but they will get a penalty for Aaron Smith being offside.
They will have a lineout on the home sides 22.
The Reds clear from the kickoff through a high kick from Thomas. Hunt knocks the ball on in the contest. The visitors will have a scrum on their 10-metre line.
6 mins - TRY Reds to Kalani Thomas
The Reds have hit straight back. From the lineout five metres out, the maul goes inches short. From the next phases, the young halfback Kalani Thomas breaks from the maul and reaches out to score under the posts.
O'Connor converts the try and it's all-square. (7-7)
The Reds have responded well to the opening try by the Highlanders. O'Connor produces a pin-point cross-kick to see the visitors break down the field.
After 15-phases the attack comes to nothing but Ben O'Keeffe was playing advantage and the Reds go for touch.
2 mins - TRY Highlanders to Scott Gregory
What a start from the Reds. As halfback Kalani Thomas looks to pass back to his five-eight it hits a stray forward. Dickson dives on the ball and the Highlanders build their attack and come wide through the backs.
Sam Gilbert breaks a tackle before offloading to Scott Gregory to score in the corner after 35 seconds.
Mitch Hunt converts the try. (HIG 7-0)
KICKOFF - Perfect conditions under the roof in Dunedin for the first match of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. Mitch Hunt gets us underway.
7:03pm - Both sides are out on the Forsyth Barr field in front of a good turnout and we are just minutes away from kickoff.
6:57pm - We are just eight minutes away from kick-off with the Highlanders holding the edge in the head-to-head match up. The southerners have won 13, while the Reds have won.
Ben O'Keeffe is the man in the middle for this encounter for the opening game of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.
Kia ora, good evening and welcome to Newshub's live coverage of the opening match of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman between the Highlanders and Queensland Reds from Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The Highlanders will be happy to see the start of the trans-Tasman competition, after finishing fourth in Super Rugby Aotearoa, but face a tricky task first up against the Australian champions.
They will be without head coach Tony Brown, who will link up with Japan, as they prepare to face the British & Irish Lions, with assistant Clarke Dermody now in charge of the team.
The Highlanders will face an Australian team for the first time in 441 days - when they lost 28-22 to the Rebels - after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the traditional Super Rugby format in 2020.
Last time they faced the Reds, the southerners snuck home 36-31 and will likely be faced with another battle this time round.
Coached by World Cup-winning All Black Brad Thorn, Queensland have come off an impressive two seasons in Super Rugby Australia.
They finished runners-up in 2020, before going one better to claim their fourth title and first since 2011.
The Reds stormed home in the final to beat the Brumbies with a try in added time to head to Dunedin full of confidence.
Highlanders $1.27 Queensland Reds $3.50
Highlanders: 1-Ayden Johnstone, 2-Ash Dixon (cc), 3-Siate Tokolahi, 4-Pari Pari Parkinson, 5-Josh Dickson, 6-Hugh Renton, 7-Billy Harmon, 8-Kazuki Himeno, 9-Aaron Smith (cc), 10-Mitch Hunt, 11-Jona Nareki, 12-Scott Gregory, 13-Michael Collins, 14-Patelesio Tomkinson, 15-Sam Gilbert
Reserves: 16-Liam Coltman, 17-Ethan De Groot, 18-Josh Hohneck, 19-Bryan Evans, 20-James Lentjes, 21-Kayne Hammington, 22-Tom O'Malley, 23-Ngatugnane Punivai
Reds: 1-Dane Zander, 2-Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3-Feao Fotuaika, 4-Ryan Smith, 5-Angus Blyth, 6-Angus Scott-Young, 7-Liam Wright (cc), 8-Seru Uru, 9-Kalani Thomas, 10-James O’Connor (cc), 11-Jock Campbell, 12-Hamish Stewart, 13-Josh Flook, 14-Filipo Daugunu, 15-Bryce Hegarty
Reserves: 16-Josh Nasser, 17-Harry Hoopert, 18-Taniela Tupou, 19-Lukhan Salakaia-Loto 20-Fraser McReight, 21-Moses Sorovi, 22-Isaac Henry, 23-Suliasi Vunivalu.
'Bit of a sniffle' Umaga plays down MacDonald's absence
The Blues will head to Melbourne for their Super Rugby Trans-Tasman opener without head coach Leon MacDonald.
The former All Blacks back utility was absent from training on Thursday, opting to remain home with a minor cold.
Assistant coach Tana Umaga took the reins in MacDonald's absence and he may do so again come Saturday night against the Rebels.
Newshub understands MacDonald won't travel with his squad, but could fly into Melbourne on Friday or Saturday.
His absence is another unwanted distraction for the Blues, who are without two senior players in captain Patrick Tuipulotu and outstanding loose forward Dalton Papali'i, while also battling a run of just two wins in their last five games.
While MacDonald's was missing with a "bit of a sniffle", Umaga hopes the coaching staff will be at full strength for the opening round of the competition.
"We're trying to take every precaution to make sure we play our role as part of that," he says.
"He's got to make sure he keeps in touch with doc, but I'm sure he'll be fine, whether he travels today or tomorrow - he'll get over there at some stage.
Umaga noted that MacDonald and the medical staff decided to keep him home as a precaution, just 24 hours out from travelling in the Australian-New Zealand border bubble.
"We get to travel, which is an anomaly these days. That's something to be excited about, but we're a bit cautious with everything that's happening in the world.
"We've got a job to do and we're looking forward to getting this competition underway."
The Blues are seeking redemption, after an underwhelming Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign that left them a win out of the final.
Despite being favoured to challenge the Crusaders, two heavy losses to the eventual champions, and a pair of shock defeats to the Highlanders and Chiefs left the squad on the outside looking in.
Expectations are high again on the Blues - second-favourites with the NZ TAB behind the Crusaders - but the squad have huge respect for the written-off Australian franchises.
Stand-in skipper Tom Robinson says the underdog Aussie outfits pose a dangerous threat to a predicted all-Kiwi finale.
"I reckon the bookies are crazy," Robinson says. "All the footage we've seen of the Aussie teams, they're good.
"We're expecting the intensity to be higher than the New Zealand competition, that's the mindset we're bringing anyway.
"We've had some pretty honest conversations over the past week and we feel like we've set the foundation for us to win this competition.
"We weren't happy with how we went in Aotearoa. We were guilty of thinking we'd roll on the back of what happened last year.
"We're here to do the business."
But the Blues could find themselves bankrupt, if they fall short at the first hurdle on Saturday.