The Brumbies did the Lions a favour when they beat the Waratahs 40-31 in Sydney on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The Waratahs came into this match having already won the Australian conference and were expected to secure second spot on the overall standings with a win against the 10th-placed Brumbies.
However, a surprise defeat means that the Lions can now finish second overall, and secure a possible home semi-final, by beating the Bulls in their last match of the conference stage at Ellis Park.
The tone for this Australian derby was set in the third minute when Tom Banks intercepted a forced pass from Curtis Rona and raced 75m to score under the posts.
Bernard Foley got the Waratahs on the board with a penalty goal, but the Brumbies responded with another two converted tries, by Rory Arnold and Isi Naisarani, to take a 21-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The visitors then suffered two setbacks in quick succession, with the influential Naisarani limping off the field with a leg injury and Folau Fainga’a yellow-carded for a professional foul when the Waratahs looked set to score from a lineout driving maul.
The hosts finally made their one-man advantage count eight minutes later when Damien Fitzpatrick charged over, but no sooner had Fainga’a returned to the field than Andy Muirhead scored a superb 50m try that saw the visitors take a 26-10 lead into the break.
The Waratahs started the second half well, but Banks did enough to prevent Taqele Naiyaravoro from scoring in the left-hand corner. The Brumbies then extended their lead when Kyle Godwin regathered his kick over Israel Folau to score his side’s fifth try.
Naiyaravoro made it 33-17 by barging over for his 15th try of the Super Rugby season, only for the Waratahs to be reduced to 14 men with 10 minutes to go when Tom Staniforth was yellow-carded for killing the ball at the Brumbies’ maul.
While the Tahs gave themselves a glimmer of hope when Will Miller scored an interception try, Lausii Taliauli ran over for the Brumbies soon after to put the result beyond doubt.
Brad Wilkin grabbed his first Super Rugby try on the full-time hooter, but it came far too late for his side.
Waratahs – Tries: Damien Fitzpatrick, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Will Miller, Brad Wilkin. Conversions: Bernard Foley (4). Penalty: Foley.
Brumbies – Tries: Tom Banks, Rory Arnold, Isi Naisarani, Andy Muirhead, Kyle Godwin, Lausii Taliauli. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano (5).
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley (c), 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Will Miller, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Alex Newsome.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andy Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Blake Enever, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Faingaa, 1 Nic Mayhew.
Subs: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Les Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Lausii Taliauli.
Photo: Jenny Evans/Getty Images