Queensland Reds player Suliasi Vunivalu hobbled off with a hamstring injury as his already undermanned team lost 31-24 to the Auckand Blues in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman on Friday night.
- The Reds were without James O’Connor and fullback Bryce Hegarty
- They had every chance to pinch rare back-to-back wins over New Zealand opponents
- The match came undone when Wilson opted to kick instead of pass to an unmarked Vunivalu
Hunting a Test debut next month, NRL convert Vunivalu limped off Suncorp Stadium just a month after returning from another hamstring complaint in his maiden rugby union season.
The Reds were already without James O’Connor and fullback Bryce Hegarty, but had every chance to pinch rare back-to-back wins over New Zealand opponents.
Line-out woes cost them — they lost four in the second half — while the Blues scored twice as yellow-carded Brandon Paenga-Amosa was off the field in the first half.
The in-form hooker also scored and made a number of enterprising breaks in what was a mixed final home game for the Reds before a move to France next season.
But their makeshift spine — featuring 19-year-old debutante Mac Grealy at fullback and Hamish Stewart in his first game at five-eighth in almost three years — couldn’t find a way past the undefeated Blues.
Captain Liam Wright heaped praise on the teenager and Stewart, who had found a home in the centres after struggling in the Number 10 as Quade Cooper’s replacement in 2018.
“It’s been a pretty crazy couple of days,” Grealy said after the match.
Harry Wilson scored off a short inside ball from a heavily-involved Hunter Paisami, the pair standouts as the Reds looked to back up last week’s breakthrough win over the Chiefs.
But a shot at their first back-to-back wins over New Zealand sides since 2013 came undone when Wilson opted to kick instead of pass to an unmarked Vunivalu.
The ball skewed out and Vunivalu pulled up sore.
Fellow winger Filipo Daugunu scored from a cross-field bomb then nailed a penalty with one minute to go, the Reds unable to score after the buzzer to tie it up.
Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu and halfback Finlay Christie were influential for the Blues, scoring tries that followed first-half five-pointers to Dalton Papalii and Mark Telea.
A bonus-point win over the Western Force next weekend would secure the Blues their first final since 2003.
“We didn’t want to let any excuses creep in tonight,” Tuipulotu said.
“It would mean a lot — there hasn’t been a home final for Auckland Blues for a while — that’s in the back of our minds but we have to do next week first.”