Woeful Highlanders pointless against Reds

The Highlanders put in an insipid display in Brisbane last night, going down 31-0. Photo: Getty...
The Highlanders put in an insipid display in Brisbane last night, going down 31-0. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders were lucky to get zero last night.

They were pumped, pummelled and penalised in an ugly 31-0 loss to the Reds in Brisbane.

It was the Highlanders’ first loss to the Queenslanders in eight years, and just the fifth time they had been held scoreless in the history of Super Rugby.

They were never really in this one.

They gave away far too many scrum and breakdown penalties, committed some schoolboy errors, and pursued a policy of relentless inaccuracy when maybe, just maybe, some basic skills might have been useful.

Everyone knew this season could be tricky for the Highlanders as they started a campaign of youthful regeneration.

A 31-0 loss to a merely decent Reds team missing two of their best players to suspension really highlights how much work is needed.

The Highlanders were presumably desperate to avoid starting terribly for a fourth straight game.

Spoiler alert: they started terribly for a fourth straight game.

The entire first half, in fact, was a royal mess.

The Highlanders were sloppy – a couple of dreadful lineouts were followed by some inexplicable handling errors – and horribly disjointed.

While they muscled up well at times in defence, which they needed to do as the Reds had much more of the ball and in better attacking positions, they never looked like creating much.

How does a professional rugby team fail to fire a single shot in 40 minutes? A little bit of a mystery, to be honest.

Midfield back Hunter Paisami scored the Reds’ opening try in the third minute of the game.

The Highlanders then ran into some serious penalty trouble to go with their handling whoopsies.

Big lock Ryan Smith scored in his 50th game and the Reds were suddenly 17-0 up, though quite possibly could have been miles further ahead as they were looking fairly slick.

Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody responded by dragging three members of his tight five – including All Blacks prop Ethan de Groot – to start the second half.

The influx of energy worked nicely for a bit, too.

Young forward Will Stodart added a lot of punch beside Sean Withy, who was one of the few Highlanders to impress in the first half.

The Highlanders had a really nice patch on attack but kept finding ways to fail to score.

In contrast, the Reds were patient in their defensive duties then efficient when given a chance on attack.

The result was put beyond doubt with a display of Highlanders ineptness in the 62nd minute.

Replacement Ajay Faleafaga threw a ghastly pass to nobody, and Jona Nareki ended up having to scramble to take the ball back over his own line.

From the resulting 5m scrum, Reds replacement Lawson Creighton strolled over and added the conversion himself.

Trailing 24-0 and with only pride at stake, the Highlanders continued to find new ways to muck things up, the lowlight a series of attacking lineouts that ended with yet another penalty conceded.

Fittingly, the Reds had the final say.

Paisami popped in a little cross kick that just evaded the clutches of replacement Highlanders fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, and winger Suliasi Vunivalu was able to scoop and score.

The good news is the Highlanders now get to come home for a winnable game against the struggling Western Force.

On the evidence of this performance, however, the Force might actually start as favourites.

The scores

Reds 31 (Hunter Paisami, Ryan Smith, Lawson Creighton, Suliasi Vunivalu tries; Tom Lynagh 2 con, pen, Creighton con)

Highlanders 0

Halftime: Reds 17-0.