Reds end Brumbies win streak, Crusaders keep up pressure
James O'Connor kicked 11 points as the Queensland Reds ended ACT Brumbies' unbeaten start to the Super Rugby Pacific season, while the Canterbury Crusaders kept up the pressure at the top with a narrow victory over the Otago Highlanders.
Reds' convincing 21-7 win in Brisbane drew them level with the Canberra-based Brumbies at the top of the 12-team table on 26 points.
The 12-time champion Crusaders are three adrift, but with a game in hand, after inflicting a sixth straight defeat on Aaron Smith's Highlanders in a nail-biting 17-14 triumph.
Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper, made a successful return for the NSW Waratahs, scoring a try after coming on as a substitute in his first match for the team since suffering a foot injury against England at Twickenham last November.
The Reds defied a red card to Tuaina Tualima for a high hit on O'Connor to beat the Brumbies with Fraser McReight scoring a try during the 20 minutes they were down to 14 men.
Winger Filipo Daugunu also banked five points with O'Connor's three penalties and a conversion ensuring the win.
But there were also plenty of missed chances. "We left a lot of points out there," said Reds coach Brad Thorn.
His opposite number Dan McKellar was more blunt, calling Brumbies' performance "dreadful".
"I don't think it was a very good game of footy ... I get really frustrated with people who bag the game but I think both teams will review that and understand we need to be a whole lot better," he said.
In Christchurch, the Crusaders sneaked past the battling Highlanders with all the points coming in the first half.
Both teams scored two tries with a penalty from All Blacks fly-half Richie Mo'unga in the 26th minute proving decisive.
- Hooper 'invaluable' -
"It was a heck of a battle," said Crusaders captain Scott Barrett, whose team endured heavy pressure in the second half.
"The conditions forced both teams into playing that pressure game and it was a real see-saw right to the final whistle."
The Auckland Blues are fourth, a point behind the Crusaders, after two wins over Moana Pasifika in the space of five days. The Blues also have a game in hand on the Reds and Brumbies.
They toppled the Pacific island newcomers 32-19 in a rearranged midweek match after their original clash was postponed early in the season because of Covid, then turned the screws with a 46-16 hammering on Saturday.
They ran in 12 tries over the two matches in Auckland, with hooker Kurt Eklund bagging a hat-trick on Saturday.
On Australia's Gold Coast, Hooper made a triumphant return for the NSW Waratahs, needing just 11 minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute to score one of their six tries in a bonus-point 38-14 thumping of Fijian Drua, who have won just one from seven.
Stand-in captain Jed Holloway said having Hooper back was a huge boost for the team, who are fifth in the table.
"His name speaks for itself and just having him around the crew is invaluable," Holloway said of the champion flanker.
The Wellington Hurricanes play the Waikato Chiefs on Sunday. Western Force and Melbourne Rebels had a bye.