The Brumbies were crowned the first Super Rugby AU champions after clinching a 28-23 victory over the Reds in Canberra on Saturday.
Despite losing to the Reds in a dead rubber a fortnight ago, the Brumbies were favourites coming into this title decider. And while they ultimately did get the predicted result, they didn’t have it all their way and were made to work for their champion status.
The Reds fought valiantly, but they were on the back foot from the outset, chasing the game for the best part of the contest. Playing catch-up took its toll on the Reds, whose discipline disintegrated with every minute they were forced to defend. Another blight on the Reds’ display was their malfunctioning lineout – which was particularly exploited by theBrumbies.
After flyhalves Noah Lolesio and James O’Connor traded early penalties, the hosts hogged all the momentum as they landed a double blow with two well-taken tries for a 15-3 lead. The Reds needed something and it came from their highly-rated youngster Jordan Petaia, who took a pass at the back and danced his way through the heart of the Brumbies defence to go close to the line and then showed great presence of mind to offload to Harry Wilson for a try.
The conversion and a penalty on the stroke of half time from O’Connor ensured that the Reds headed into the break trailing by two points despite playing relatively poorly in the first half. As for the Brumbies, going into the sheds in front served as a good omen – they had won nine from nine matches this season when leading midway.
The hosts started the second half well as they looked to put the contest to bed. They scored 13 unanswered points via a converted try, a penalty and a well-struck drop goal. The Reds looked dead and buried at that stage, but were handed a reprieve as the Brumbies became somewhat complacent.
Just as the Brumbies’ energy and urgency levels dropped, the Reds’ spiked following the introduction of their reserve players. A 10-point swing the way of the Reds made it a five-point match. With 15 minutes remaining, the Reds had more than enough time and ample opportunity to turn the result around. But poor decision-making and poor handling skills cost them in that final stretch.
Brumbies – Tries: Folau Fainga’a, Andy Muirhead, Tom Banks. Conversions: Noah Lolesio (2). Penalties: Lolesio (2). Drop goal: Lolesio.
Reds – Tries: Harry Wilson, Angus Blyth. Conversions: James O’Connor (2). Penalties: O’Connor (3).
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Will Miller, 6 Lachie McCaffrey, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Murray Douglas, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 James Slipper, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Rob Valetini, 21 Nic White, 22 Bayley Kuenzle, 23 Solomone Kata.
Reds – 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Liam Wright, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Angus Blyth, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 JP Smith.
Subs: 16 Josh Nasser, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Tuaina Taii Taulima, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Jack Hardy.
Photo: Rugby AU/Twitter