A wobbly scrum has cost an audacious Queensland Reds in their Super Rugby Pacific quarter-final defeat to the Crusaders.
The hosts prevailed 37-15 in Christchurch on Friday night, ending a Reds season crippled by constant key injuries that contributed to a 0-6 record against New Zealand teams.
But the Crusaders were made to work for an 11th straight head-to-head win, Reds five-eighth Lawson Creighton missing a penalty kick from 40 metres out, almost directly in front, that would have put them up 18-16 with 30 minutes to play.
At that point the Reds were daring to dream of breaking a 19-game losing run away from home against New Zealand opposition, let alone notch their first win in Christchurch since 1999.
But the set piece let them down, the Crusaders preying on it and eventually breaking the game open when Richie Mounga scored from another scrum penalty.
They iced their semi-final passage when Sevu Reece finished a slick 80-metre move started by hot-footed fullback Will Jordan.
Reds co-captain Tate McDermott was badly concussed during that sequence, while earlier in the half All Blacks hopeful Ethan Blackadder left the field with a suspected broken wrist.
Those injuries were a nod to a brutal, high-intensity game that the Reds – other than in the scrum – matched the powerhouse side.
Heavily involved winger Filipo Daugunu had arguably his best night of the season, scoring off a slick line-out move and lovely short pass from Creighton to begin the second half.
The Reds’ only won half of their scrums and gave away nine penalties – many of them lazy or ill-disciplined – to two in the first half.
But still it was only an eight-point margin at the break, a Will Jordan knock-on in the lead-up denying the hosts a bonus try from a missed Reds lineout after the halftime siren had sounded.
A faulty Crusaders lineout led to the Reds’ early try, Harry Hoopert with fantastic hands and Jordan Petaia busting the line to set up Suliasi Vunivalu.
The flying winger had plenty of work to do though, fending off one tackler then riding two more as he slid into the corner successfully.
The Crusaders scored first when Will Jordan rolled over, but it was otherwise penalties that built their lead in a fiery, high-stakes atmosphere.