The Brumbies got the better of the Melbourne Rebels in a 27-19 win at AAMI Park on Friday. However, with a disallowed try to the hosts, questionable officiating, and a generally poor style of play on show from both sides, neither team will be writing home about this match as they head into the bye.
A quick thanks to Brumby Jack for nobly taking the reins in the preview for this game, whilst I was on a plane home. Much appreciated, mate.
The Brumbies, suddenly taking on all comers under Jake White, would have written this match down as a crucial five-pointer to help seal the conference trophy over the Reds, after conceding 3 points to them last week. The Rebels needed to lift and show something to their fans after being humiliated at the Cake Tin against the Hurricanes.
The match started poorly for the home side, conceding a penalty on the half-way line in the first minute. Strangely, the Brumbies chose to kick for goal, Mogg slotting it to give the visitors an early lead.
It didn’t get much better for the Rebels, kicking the ball out on the full at the restart. The Brumbies took the scrum and forced a free-kick, working the ball forward to their attacking 10m line. The Rebels gave away a penalty at the breakdown, the first of many for the night, and the Brumbies again pointed for the posts. Mogg made no mistake and the Brumbies were up 6-0 after 5 minutes – a good score for all the momentum they had, but an overly safe start to the game.
The Rebels snapped out of their funk, and started to gain more of the possession. Every attacking run, however, was stopped by silly handling errors, knock-ons the order of the day.
The Brumbies gained the ball back, and found themselves in their attacking half. At a breakdown, the home side were questionably pinged for not rolling away, when it appeared that the Brumbies player had not released the ball. Holmes took the tee this time, lining up from 25m and slotting the Brumbies’ third, making the score 9-0 after 13.
The Rebels hit back a few minutes later, with new old captain Stirling Mortlock pointing straight to the posts when Michael Hooper was pinged at the breakdown. Julian Huxley was given the tee and put the hosts on the board, making the score 9-3 after 18.
The Rebels were still struggling at the breakdown, particularly with the referee’s interpretation of the rolling away rule. After the third straight infringement, the Rebels doth protest too much, and Jono Owen was the unlucky one to take the fall, being sent to the sin bin. Luke Jones came off as well to allow Rodney Blake to take the front row. The Brumbies seized the chance, using their advantage, and the Rebels’ traditional weakness on the wings, to send Michael Hooper through out wide for the first try of the day. With the conversion missed, it was 14-3 after 27.
The hosts kept pace with the leaders, however, putting the pressure on from the restart. Hooper was penalised again at the breakdown and Huxley took the easy kick, making the score 14-6 on the half-hour.
The momentum continued to shift towards the Victorians, and the pressure hit again as the Brumbies were penalised for a srum infringement on the half-way. Desperate to pare the score back, Mortlock pointed to the posts again and handed Huxley the tee from 50 metres. Showing the skills usually reserved for the bigger oval stadium across the road, Huxley drilled a shot low and straight into the crowd, who roared as the score whittled back to 14-9.
Towards the end of the half, James Hilgendorf raised the stakes in his game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better with Kurtley Beale, weaving through Michael Hooper and breaking the final defensive line with a dummy to Mark Gerrard. Credit to the Brumbies for getting back just in time to force the point, but he looked to get over the line for the Rebels’ first. A long trip to the TMO later, and the decision was made to disallow the try.
The Rebels pushed and pushed as the siren went, trying to get that try back. The Brumbies conceded several penalties holding them back, and eventually the referee took the advantage away, forcing the Rebels into a decision. Mortlock chose to take the 3 as partial reward for their effort, Huxley making no mistake, the score 14-12 at oranges.
After the restart, it was all Brumbies. They earned a penalty in the 44th and Holmes gave the visitors some breathing space at 17-12, extending the lead back to 5. Minutes later, the Brumbies took proper advantage of their great start, with Robbie Coleman taking advantage of the Rebels’ wing weakness to go over on the left hand side. Holmes didn’t miss the two this time and the score read 24-12 after 53.
The Rebels took advantage of a sketchy Brumbies restart, Gareth Delve regaining the ball and passing it off to Cooper Vuna to barrel through in the left corner. The Rebel winger had a cracking game, proving his worth in gold with great runs and vastly improved possession retention. Julian Huxley kicked lights out from the touchline, making the score 24-19 after 55.
The scrappy, questionable-quality play continued for the next 20 minutes, both teams struggling to get a hold on the match. The Rebels, especially, wasted possession with simple handling errors and poor lineouts. The circuit-breaker came in the 73rd, with the Brumbies awarded another penalty. Holmes slotted it to deny the Rebels a Force bonus point, and it was there the score would stay.
BRUMBIES RUGBY 27
Tries: A Smith, R Coleman
Conversions: Z Holmes 1/2
Penalties: Z Holmes 3/3, J Mogg
MELBOURNE REBELS 19
Tries: C Vuna
Conversions: J Huxley
Penalties: J Huxley 4/4
HALF TIME: BRU 14-12 MEL
CROWD: 12,422 at AAMI Park.
STU’S JUDGEMENT-IMPAIRED-AFTER-A-LONG-FLIGHT CLIFF NOTES
The Brumbies only have themselves to blame for not getting the bonus point. They had the possession and positional advantage for most of the first 30 minutes, and used it to score three penalties and just one try. At least the Rebels had a crack when given their best opportunity after the half-time buzzer. With the break looming, and against a weaker opponent, there was no excuse for the Brumbies to play safe, yet they did.
For all their scoring from restarts, the Rebels still struggle with reactionary play. They can’t change their style of play based on their opponents or – importantly – the referee. If something you do gets you get caught for not rolling away, regardless of whether it’s legitimate or not, don’t keep doing it. It’s the rugby equivalent of ‘stop hitting yourself’.
The Brumbies, on form, will go nowhere near the final. The Rebels dragged them down to their level after the first 10 minutes and the Brumbies seemed content to stay there. They’re a good team, but ‘good’ is where they’ll stay unless they can put teams away. That rhymes, so it must be true.
Cooper Vuna and Cadeyrn Neville deserve to be Wallabies. Both were excellent against the conference leaders. Neville continued his career-long purple patch with countless courageous and effective hit-ups, and Vuna’s ability to read the play and find just the right opening is so far removed from the run-in-hope player that debuted last year.
Luke Jones’ suspension cost him a gold jersey. He has shown excellent form since returning from a two-week holiday for a tip tackle against the Bulls. One feels that if he had taken part in the two games he missed, against the Crusaders and Force, he would have seen his teammate Cadeyrn Neville out of the squad.
The only Wallabies scrum-half who should be box-kicking is Will Genia. After putting two box kicks from well-positioned rucks, in a row, out on the full, Nick Phipps needs practice. A lot of practice.
James O’Connor is now even further away from the Rebels 10 jersey. James Hilgendorf was fantastic as the ‘third choice’ fly-half. He brought a new and different dimension to the Rebels back line, putting more trust in his fellow backs than Beale or O’Connor do. Beale in command with Hilgendorf as a super-sub is a tantalising prospect for the Victorians.