The Brumbies are the Super Rugby AU champions after a tense 28-23 win over the Reds in Canberra.
In the end, it was a game befitting of the final as the Reds threw everything at the Brumbies in the last quarter but couldn’t come away with what would have been a remarkable victory to end a six year losing streak in the capital given they lost arguably their best player in Jordan Petaia followed Lukhan Salakaia-Loto for the second half.
Tries to Folau Fainga’a, Andy Muirhead and Tom Banks and the boot of Noah Lolesio were enough to see off a determined Reds side who scored from forwards Harry Wilson and Angus Blyth and the handy kicking off the tee from James O’Connor.
The Reds can hold their heads high but there were some key moments in the game that saw it slip away from them with some tackle discipline and their lineout towards the back end of the game proving decisive in the final five-point margin.
It was a very physical start from both sides with a penalty each way and the Reds going hard at the ball at ruck time. Fraser McReight copped two early penalties and a chat from Angus Gardner for his work at the ruck and one of those led to Noah Lolesio opening the scoring in the 5th minute with a penalty goal in his first game back in two months after a hamstring injury.
The Reds were able to get into the game on the back of their scrum and down into the Brumbies territory and another penalty followed that allowed James O’Connor to level after 14 minutes.
The Brumbies were the beneficiaries of back-to-back penalties with both sides having a bit of trouble controlling their aggression and enthusiasm in the opening 20 minutes with a few high tackles.
After Tom Banks kicked to the sideline from a high shot penalty, the Reds knew what was coming their way and stopped the first driving maul but were pinged for coming in the side but they couldn’t stop the next one with Folau Fainga’a rolling over for the opening try after 17 minutes. Lolesio’s conversion made it 10-3.
The Brumbies went further ahead after 25 minutes through a try to Andy Muirhead who collected a neat offload from Lolesio and beat three defenders and stretched out to score. The move started after Taniela Tupou lost the ball in contact and the Brumbies had the Reds on the back foot with Tevita Kuridrani involved multiple times in the movement to make up for his Wallabies squad snubbing.
The Reds pulled out a special try of their own after 30 minutes after Jordan Petaia swooped on a loose ball about 40 metres out and sliced through the defence and then offloaded to Harry Wilson for the Reds first try. O’Connor’s conversion reduced the gap to 15-10.
The Reds scrum was again causing the Brumbies problems and with back-to-back penalties of their own, O’Connor kicked his second penalty of the game to make it 15-13 at half time after Will Miller was pinged for going off his feet at the ruck.
The Reds suffered a blow with Petaia not continuing in the second half and was replaced by Bryce Hegarty and the injury concerns got worse only three minutes later as Lukhan Salakaia-Loto knocked himself out in a head clash with Lachie McCaffrey but thankfully was able to walk off unaided.
The Brumbies received a penalty in the Reds 22 and caught them off guard with a quick tap and after recycling the ball, spread it wide and Tom Banks shredded the defence to score the Brumbies third try of the night. Lolesio’s conversion made it 22-13 and he would add a drop goal off a penalty advantage to make it ten points in as many minutes to open the half.
Straight off the restart the Reds went down to 14 after Filipo Daugunu was yellow carded for a lifting tackle on McCaffrey and the tackle discipline let them down again as Hamish Stewart was pinged to give Lolesio another penalty goal and make it 28-13 at the 55-minute mark.
With Daugunu in the bin, O’Connor used his experience to wind down the clock with his third penalty goal with both sides starting to empty the benches.
Tate McDermott started to get his running game going and the Reds had a stroke of luck for their next points as his snipe found space but the ball came free and like all good players playing to the whistle, Angus Blyth dived on the ball in the in-goal and was awarded the try after a look from the TMO and O’Connor’s conversion made it 28-23.
In the last ten minutes the Reds lineout deserted them as they lost multiple throws in key positions on the field and the Brumbies were keen to pounce and in the end it cost them a shot at an unlikely victory as the Brumbies held on at the end for a five-point win.
The Game Changer
The second half. The Reds were in with a shot at half time only down by 2 but losing Petaia and Salakaia-Loto early rattled them and the 13 points conceded in as many minutes proved too much to reel in even though the threw everything at the Brumbies in the last 10 minutes.
The G&GR MOTM
Noah Lolesio – His first game back after 2 months out with a hamstring injury and it didn’t look like he missed a beat.
With this basically a selection trial for Dave Rennie, he would have been happy with what he saw. Jordan Petaia showed that he is the next cab off the rank at 13 but his injury problems continued and only played the first half. Taniela Tupou was again a menace at scrum time to earn the Reds some key penalties to keep the Reds in the game.
James O’Connor was again leading the Reds backline but his opposite in Lolesio proved he could do a job for Rennie if given a chance.
Harry Wilson also showed he wouldn’t look out of place in Gold with a try.
For the Brumbies, Folau Fainga’a was busy and scored the opening try and should be key for Rennie with lineout throwing proving the difference in the end. Pete Samu was his usual immaculately dressed self and got through a stack of work. The Brumbies props in Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa had tough night against the Reds front row. Tom Banks has eased into the season following injury but got over the line tonight. Although Tevita Kuridrani didn’t make Rennie’s 44 man squad, he played like he had something to prove in what could be his last game for the Brumbies and could be recalled pending the extend of the injury to Petaia.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Fainga’a, Muirhead, Banks
Conversions: Lolesio 2
Penalties: Lolesio 2
Drop goals: Lolesio
Tries: Wilson, Blyth
Conversions: O’Connor 2
Penalties: O’Connor 3
50 mins – Daugunu (Reds) – Yellow