Reds take aim at NZ hoodoo
THE surge of belief within the youngest Reds players from their near-miss in Wellington has convinced skipper Scott Higginbotham they are ready to ambush the Highlanders at their next start.
Noble losses are not landmarks that Reds chief Brad Thorn has any interest in being remembered for, even with Friday's highlights from the 38-34 loss to a Hurricanes side that is good enough to win the Super Rugby title.
The galling ledger for the Reds is still 10 straight losses to Kiwi sides and Thorn won't be doing any crowing until that streak is shattered.
The Reds have won three of their four games at Suncorp Stadium this season and that feeds extra confidence they can rattle Aaron Smith and the Highlanders at that venue on Saturday night.
"We have five games to play this season, plenty to gain, and it's very important we don't go backwards from here," Higginbotham said.
"We've gone from great against the Lions, to terrible against the Sunwolves, to what I thought was a strong, tough performance against a top Kiwi side where our game sense definitely improved.
"Consistency is a hard thing to find but we have to keep that level for the rest of the season, plus improve in areas.
"The most heartening thing for me in Wellington was how disappointed the players were in the dressing room after the game.
"The young guys weren't happy to have gone close.
"They took on board the big chat at half-time that being close (24-20) wasn't good enough, and they went hard again in the second half so that it was a game there to be won by us."
The Reds haven't toppled a Kiwi side since the Highlanders visited Brisbane in April, 2016, when centre Samu Kerevi carved them up.
Kerevi will certainly take in good form after setting up one try with a fine, angled run, scoring his own off a slick Jono Lance pass, and making 11 effective tackles to put a stutter in Super Rugby's best backline.
Halfback Ben Lucas was much improved, lock Izack Rodda added a stolen lineout to his physical clout, flanker George Smith was heavily involved with 14 tackles, returning skipper Higginbotham added steel, and the young Reds played without fear.
It was Higginbotham's first 80-minute outing in 11 months and his composure, ball-carrying and leadership made a major difference.
"There's a bit of contact soreness but the good thing was I felt fit throughout, which might even be a bit unexpected in my first full game for a long while," Higginbotham said.
Fullback Hamish Stewart was replaced because of a knock on the knee but he'd recovered well by yesterday to be hopeful of playing the Highlanders.
The Reds did not enter the blame game over the inconsistent refereeing of Kiwi Ben O'Keeffe.
It was ridiculous that O'Keefe could rule merely a knock-on, not even a deliberate knockdown penalty, on a Hurricanes player when Red Chris Feauai-Sautia was yellow carded for such an offence against the Brumbies.
Equally, the fact Kerevi scored a late try should not have voided O'Keeffe's responsibility to call for a review of the Jordie Barrett high shot that felled Lance.