The Brumbies ground out an important 23-6 win against the Bulls in Canberra on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Brumbies came into this fixture desperate for any sort of victory. The Canberra-based franchise has been beset by problems on and off the field in recent weeks. They could not afford a loss at home at this point in their 2016 campaign.
While the Brumbies may be happy with the result, they will know that the performance left a lot to be desired. The hosts offered plenty of physicality at the collisions and breakdowns, but some poor decision-making and handling let them down at key moments.
Not that the Bulls were any better. The visitors battled to get into the game in the first half, and it was only thanks to their determined defence that they remained in touch with the hosts. When they did get their hands on the ball, they forced the offload or kicked it away when the better option was to retain possession and build pressure.
The Brumbies led 9-3 at the break. The desperation to win shaped their tactics during that first stanza. However, a try by Nigel Ah Wong in the 44th minute saw the Brumbies extending their lead. From there, the hosts began to grow in confidence.
The Bulls competed well at the scrums and lineouts in the first half, and even managed to force the creaking Brumbies pack to concede several penalties. After the break, the Brumbies scrum took control, and the lineout began to assert itself.
Indeed, a solid lineout provided the platform for the first try. The Bulls defence had been excellent up to that point, but miscommunication between Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel saw Ah Wong break the line and crash over for an important score.
The Bulls attempted to hit back, but failed to produce the necessary combination of physicality and accuracy at the breakdowns. The Brumbies won some important turnovers during this period, and prevented the Bulls from building any momentum.
Tomás Cubelli scored for the hosts in the 57th minute, and Christian Leali'ifano’s touchline conversion stretched the lead to 23-6. The Bulls did enough to deny the Brumbies a third try, and thus a bonus point, in the final quarter. Unfortunately, they never threatened to cross the tryline themselves.
The Bulls have missed a massive opportunity. Even a bonus point for finishing the game within seven of the winners would have helped their bid for the Africa 1 conference title.
As it stands, the Bulls remain one log point behind the Stormers. Both teams have now played nine games.
Brumbies – Tries: Nigel Ah Wong, Tomás Cubelli. Conversions: Christian Leali'ifano (2). Penalties: Leali'ifano (3).
Bulls – Penalties: Francois Brummer (2).
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 James Dargaville, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Nigel Ah Wong, 10 Christian Leali'ifano, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Blake Enever, 21 Jordan Smiler, 22 Joe Powell, 23 Lausii Taliauli.
Bulls – 15 SP Marais, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Lizo Gqoboko, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dan Kriel.
Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images