James O’Connor snatched a try after the buzzer against the Brumbies as the Reds toppled the defending champions 19-16 in a frantic finish to the Super Rugby AU final on Saturday.
Brad Thorn’s men have been the standout team this year, winning seven of eight games ahead of the decider, and they didn’t disappoint a bumper 42,000-strong crowd in a pulsating game at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
They went into the break 13-6 down but came back in emphatic fashion, with O’Connor crossing in the 84th minute then converting after a sustained period of pressure with two Brumbies players yellow-carded in the final few minutes.
It was only their second Super Rugby title. Their first came in 2011, when the competition also featured top teams from New Zealand and South Africa.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) May 8, 2021
‘It was a tough contest, it always is against the Brumbies. That was like a Test match,’ said skipper O’Connor, who scored all 19 points.
‘Super proud of my boys, they came home strong. We started a little bit slow, but we got there.’
It was the third match in a row against the Brumbies in which they had been down at half time and rallied to win.
‘I want to congratulate the Reds, not only on tonight but a great season,’ said Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa, whose side made the final after six wins from eight this season.
‘I said to my boys, you’ve got to be proud of that effort.’
The Reds narrowly lost last year’s final to the Brumbies 28-23 and admitted before the game they were still smarting.
But it was all the Canberra team in the first half.
O’Connor nailed an early penalty to get the scoreboard ticking over in a fast and furious opening 10 minutes that the visitors dominated.
Their pressure paid off when Tom Banks crossed for the opening try after a deft offload from Noah Lolesio, who converted to put them 7-3 in front.
The Brumbies had all the possession and territory, but against the run of play O’Connor’s boot pulled the Reds back to within a point.
But the mini comeback didn’t last, with two more Lolesio penalties stretching the Brumbies advantage to 13-6 at half time.
Wallaby wing Jordan Petaia was unfortunate to have a try disallowed soon after the restart as the Reds started fast.
But O’Connor bagged a third penalty to keep them in touch and then a fourth to take them within a point at 12-13 with 16 minutes left.
A composed Lolesio eased the pressure with his third successful penalty to restore a four point advantage going into the final 10 minutes, before two yellow cards for the Brumbies.