Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: Highlanders outclass Queensland Reds with emphatic victory

A clinical Highlanders side have outclassed Queensland Reds to claim first blood in the opening game of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, with a 40-19 victory under the roof at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The southerners were hunting back-to-back home wins for the first time since 2019 and produced a brilliant attacking display to claim a bonus-point victory over the Australian champions. 

After winning Super Rugby AU last Saturday, the Reds suffered a reality check from a rampant Highlanders side that ran in six tries to three to set a benchmark for the new competition. 

The home side couldn't have hoped for a better start, when Scott Gregory scored after 35 seconds off the back of young Reds halfback Kalani Thomas passing the ball into his own man to turn possession over. 

The Reds weren't behind for long and Thomas went from villain to hero, when he reached out over Aaron Smith to level the scores after six minutes. 

From then on, the Highlanders set up camp in the Reds half and spent 5m 22s in the visitors' 22 in the first half. 

The hosts got their reward 12 minutes before the break, when co-captain Ash Dixon burrowed over to give his side a deserved lead. 

They looked like they had opened the floodgates, when Patelesio Tomkinson scored in the corner off a pinpoint bullet pass from Smith to open up a 14-point margin. 

The Highlanders looked like extending their lead, when Hugh Renton seemed certain to score after the siren, but dropped the ball over the line to squander the chance, with the home side taking a 21-7 lead into the sheds.

Whatever All Black legend and Reds coach Brad Thorn said at halftime worked a treat, as they grabbed their second for the evening five minutes after the break. 

Bryce Hegarty put in a pinpoint crossfield kick to ex-Melbourne Storm league player Suliasi Vunivalu, who outlept Sam Gilbert to score a try that was better suited to the NRL. 

The home side hit back four minutes later, when Dixon converted a trademark Highlanders lineout drive to restore the 14 point lead. 

The southerners finished the last 10 minutes on fire with two tries in three minutes through Liam Coltman - through another lineout drive - and Ngatugnane Punivai, who finished off a brilliant attacking play. 

The Reds got a late consolation try through Vunivalu, who claimed his second of the evening off another crossfield kick. 

Highlanders 40 (Gregory, 2 Dixon, Tomkinson, Coltman, Punivai tries; Hunt 5 conversions) Reds 19 (Thomas, 2 Vunivalu try; O'Connor & Hegarty conversions)