Heartache for Reds in nailbiting loss to Blues
SHATTERED centre Samu Kerevi is almost certain to miss his dream Test against Fiji after an ankle injury compounded Friday night's nailbiting near-miss by the Reds in steamy Samoa.
The Reds clawed back from a ragged 12-0 deficit to lead 29-27 with seven minutes to play as they sought to snap Australia's 0-20 streak against Kiwi rivals in Super Rugby this year.
The script from there was a painful rerun of so many tight finishes in recent years because the Auckland-based Blues seized the final breakaway try for a 34-29 clincher through rookie Stephen Perofeta.
Kerevi could only squirm with emotional highs and lows from the bench on the sideline with his left ankle in ice after the leg was buckled under a Blues tackler after just nine minutes.
The one upside is that the surgery the Reds skipper underwent last October was on his right ankle but the forecast is still not good for a recovery in time to play for the Wallabies against his native Fiji in Melbourne in a week.
The Reds were remarkably spirited to fight back from 12-0 down without their No.1 ballrunner and tackle-buster on the field but they found four close-range tries without him.
There was a huge amount of dropped ball from both sides but the humid 28 degree temperatures made the ball a cake of soap that players had trouble controlling.
Reds coach Nick Stiles spoke only a week ago of waiting for "Tongan Thor" to have his moment and this was it.
The 129kg Taniela Tupou smashed over for two tries close to the ruck as the Reds, at last, stuck to a game plan of punishing the Blues' inconsistent defence close to the ruck.
He made several other charges on a soaring night to celebrate Samoa's first taste of Super Rugby in the professional era.
No.8 Scott Higginbotham was a standout for the Reds and utility Jake McIntyre tackled like a demon playing out of position as cover for the injured Kerevi for 70 minutes
The swings of momentum in the match were massive.
The Reds looked like they'd left their heads on the plane they caught to Samoa in the opening six minutes.
Flanker Hendrik Tui lost the ball from the opening kick-off, the first of three occasions, the Reds front-row kicked a tight-head scrum the Blues way and Karmichael Hunt missed a tackle in the opening Rene Ranger try.
Quade Cooper had a mixed night.
He made a ripping front-on tackle on 103kg winger Rieko Ioane, who scored his seventh try against Australian opposition this season.
Unfortunately, his handling and passing in the slippery conditions was ragged.
Halfback James Tuttle pulled off two trysaving tackles and winger Eto Nabuli made the best of his career to deny Ranger in the corner at a key moment of the second half.
The Reds hit the front at the 51-minute mark 22-20 when replacement flanker Adam Korczyk plunged over and rallied to hit the lead again at 29-27.
Lock Izack Rodda was urgent on the edge of a ruck for a charge down that turned into Tupou's second strike.
Tupou's excellence was a wonderful show of what Auckland missed out on because it was as a schoolboy in the city at Sacred Heart College that he was first spotted as a tackle-busting, bullocking weapon.
New Wallaby Lukhan Tui left the field in the second half with what looked like a shoulder injury and it would a great disappointment if it stalled involvement in his first Wallabies camp this week.