Last-minute try cruels Reds' Super Rugby finals hopes
A last-minute try has robbed the Queensland Reds of just their second Dunedin win in 27 years and left the injury-hit side in grave danger of missing the Super Rugby Pacific finals.
The Highlanders kept their own season alive with a 35-30 win at a pulsing Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday, Folau Fakatava scoring in the right corner with 30 seconds to play.
The Reds took a 14-0 lead and were 27-14 ahead early in the second half, Tom Lynagh kicking a clutch 45-metre penalty from out wide to put Queensland ahead by three with four minutes to play.
But the Highlanders came again to leave the Reds shattered and likely depleted, with Liam Wright (arm), Tate McDermott and Connor Vest (head knocks) all first-half casualties.
Victory would have sewn up a finals berth but the bonus-point loss leaves the Reds clinging on to seventh, one point clear of the Highlanders with one round to play.
They'll likely be down on key men and needing a win in Fiji against the Drua, who have beaten the Crusaders and Hurricanes at home this season, to remain in the eight and play finals.
"I'm really proud," outstanding flanker Harry Wilson said. "To finish that way hurts.
"Our backs are against the wall; tonight we nearly got it done, but next week we have to get it done.
"A lot of people will be writing us off. We have to go over there and thrive in it."
The Reds hadn't won in Dunedin since 2013 - and that their only victory there since 1996 - but looked on song when Wright powered over in the seventh minute.
But the co-captain hurt his arm in the act and saw no further part, with fellow leader McDermott and backrower Vest soon joining him.
A try-of-the-season contender followed, Wilson running off his own line to bust through tacklers, dummy then pass to James O'Connor.
O'Connor shunted off a tackle and somehow stayed infield, the ball going through four more sets of hands before Jake Upfield scored.
The Highlanders got it back to 14-14, before Suliasi Vunivalu leaped through the line and waltzed over on the halftime siren to give the Reds the lead.
Connor Garden-Bachop's try put the hosts in front for the first time in the 66th minute, two potential knock-ons and a forward pass in the build-up not reviewed despite queries from the host broadcaster.
Another scrum penalty win gave Lynagh a platform to boot the Reds back in front and he obliged.
But a simple knock-on by Hunter Paisami hurt the visitors, the fit-again centre fumbling a loose ball that had spilled out when the Highlanders were pressing for a try.
Fakatava, on for Aaron Smith in the Japan-bound halfback's final home game, darted over to shatter the Reds' hopes of a second straight win in New Zealand.
"That's so cool man, so happy for him and our team," Smith said of his replacement scoring the match-winner.
The Highlanders beat the Rebels by three points last week as they battle to claim a top-eight finish.
"It means everything ... for a team trying really hard, fighting for our lives," Smith said.