A last-minute try has robbed the Queensland Reds of just their second win in 27 years in Dunedin and left the injury-hit side in grave danger of missing the Super Rugby Pacific finals.

The Highlanders kept their own season alive with a 35-30 win at a pulsing Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday, Folau Fakatava scoring in the right corner with 30 seconds to play.

The Reds led 14-0 early then 27-14 early in the second half, Tom Lynagh kicking a clutch 45m penalty from out wide to put the Reds ahead by three with four minutes to play.

But the Highlanders came again to leave the Reds shattered.

Victory would have sewn up a finals berth but the result leaves the Reds clinging on to eighth and all but needing a win in Fiji against the Drua to remain there and play finals.

The Reds hadn't won in Dunedin since 2013 - their only win since 1996 - but looked on song early when Liam Wright powered over in the seventh minute.

But the co-captain hurt his arm and saw no further part, with fellow leader Tate McDermott and backrower Conner Vest also first-half casualties.

A try-of-the-season contender followed, Harry Wilson running off his own line to bust through tacklers, dummy then pass to James O'Connor.

O'Connor shunted off a tackle and somehow stayed infield, the ball going through four more sets of hands before Jake Upfield scored.

The Highlanders got it back to 14-14, Suliasi Vunivalu leaping through the line and waltzing over on the halftime siren to give the Reds the lead.

Tom Lynagh's (three-from-three penalties) boot kept the visitors ahead in the second half as their injuries took a toll on their energy stocks, even with Wilson's constant charges bending the Highlanders' line.

Connor Garden-Bachop's try put the hosts in front for the first time, two potential knock-ons and a forward pass in the build-up not reviewed. 

Another scrum penalty win gave Lynagh a platform to boot the Reds back in front and he obliged.

But a simple knock-on by Hunter Paisami hurt the visitors, the fit-again centre fumbling a loose ball that had spilled out when the Highlanders were pressing for a try.

Fakatava, on for Aaron Smith in the Japan-bound halfback's final home game, made the most of it to dart over and shatter the Reds' hopes of a second straight win in New Zealand.


HIGHLANDERS 35 TRIES: Nareki, Renton, Ma'u, Garden-Bachop, Fakatava CONS: Gilbert 4/4, Burns 1/1

REDS 30 TRIES: Wright, Upfield, Vunivalu CONS: Lynagh 3/3 PENS: Lynagh 3/3

HIGHLANDERS (1-15): Ethan de Groot, Andrew Makalio, Jermaine Ainsley, Pari Pari Parkinson, Max Hicks, Shannon Frizell, Billy Harmon (c), Hugh Renton, Aaron Smith, Freddie Burns, Jona Nareki, Sam Gilbert, Matt Whaanga, Jonah Lowe, Mitch Hunt

RESERVES: Rhys Marshall, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma’u, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Sean Withy, Folau Fakatava, Connor Garden-Bachop, Scott Gregory

REDS (1-15): Peni Ravai, Matt Faessler, Zane Nonggorr, Angus Blyth, Connor Vest, Liam Wright (co-c), Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott (co-c), Tom Lynagh, Mac Grealy, James O'Connor, Josh Flook, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jock Campbell

RESERVES: Richie Asiata, Dane Zander, Sef Fa'agase, Jake Upfield, Lopeti Faifua, Kalani Thomas, Lawson Creighton, Hunter Paisami

Referee: Brendon Pickerill

Assistant Referees: Angus Mabey, Marcus Playle