The ACT Brumbies mastered the wet and windy conditions in Auckland, New Zealand, yesterday to beat the Blues 20-13 in the 1,500th game of Super Rugby.
Scrumhalf Nic White scored their only try and Christian Lealiifano kicked five penalties as the Brumbies bounced back with a win after consecutive defeats to the Crusaders and Waratahs.
The Australian Conference leaders success was built on tactical kicking, which pinned the Blues back for the majority of the first half, with the hosts guilty of numerous handling errors and struggling at the lineout.
The Blues improved after the break, but they gave themselves too much to do with the conditions not helping their exciting backs, while much of the second half was spent resetting scrums.
“To come out here and play in the conditions like they were in the first half and execute our plan, I thought our guys were really good tonight,” Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen said in a pitchside interview. “Our defense was extremely strong in that first half.”
Lealiifano slotted two penalties in the first 17 minutes at Eden Park to put the Brumbies 6-0 ahead, before White cleverly used the wet conditions to score the game’s opening try five minutes later.
Blues winger George Moala dropped a greasy high ball and, after the Brumbies forwards piled in to the ruck, the ball squirted free. White hacked through and slid over from well short of the try-line to avoid a tackle for the first five pointer.
Lealiifano failed to convert the tricky effort from near the right touchline, but did slot another penalty before the hooter as the Brumbies went in 14-0 ahead at halftime.
Blues coach John Kirwan was seen angrily remonstrating with his team during the break and the tongue lashing drew some positive reaction, with the hosts improving in the second period.
Flyhalf Chris Noakes slotted an early penalty to get them on the board, before outside center Rene Ranger crossed for a try in the 53rd minute after a smart dummy and break by All Blacks scrumhalf Piri Weepu.
Noakes converted to close the gap to 14-10, but Lealiifano slotted two more penalties to one from Blues replacement Baden Kerr as the Brumbies claimed the four points.
“Tonight, we gave ourselves an uppercut for the first half,” dejected Blues lock and skipper Ali Williams said.
AFP, PERTH, Australia
The Western Force continued their recent dominance of the Otago Highlanders with a thrilling win in their Super XV clash in Perth, Australia, yesterday.
In the battle of the competition’s cellar dwellers, with just three wins between them this season, the Force made it a fifth straight win against the embattled Highlanders and notched their third victory of the season.
For the New Zealand side, the result means they are almost certain to claim the wooden spoon this year.
Although the Force only ran in the only try in a match dominated by the kicking games of both sides, the boot of Jayden Hayward held the Highlanders at bay. Hayward scored 14 points and also set up the game’s only try.
After the Highlanders hit the lead through a Colin Slade long-range penalty in the 76th minute, Hayward won a penalty 60 seconds later when he was taken out by substitute Tino Nemani after kicking the ball.
Hayward stepped up and coolly slotted the penalty to put the Force back in front.
The Force had generally looked the best side for most of the match, dominating possession, but struggling to crack the Highlanders defense.
They looked certain to score early in the match when they put together 23 phases as they camped on the try-line, but the Highlanders held firm in defense.
However, in the 17th minute Hayward made a break down the right and the ball ended up with Sias Ebersohn, who dived over in the corner for his first try since 2011.
Hayward converted to give the hosts a 7-0 lead and reward them for their early energy.
The two sides then traded penalties, the Force leading 10-6 at the break, until the final 20 minutes saw the Highlanders finally click into gear and produce their most cohesive rugby of the match.
They were narrowly denied a try in the 62nd minute when Ma’a Nonu slid in against the post and the video referee was called upon, but it was impossible to be certain he grounded the ball and it was ruled to have been held up.
The Highlanders had a last-gasp chance to snatch the win, but Slade knocked on.
Force captain Matt Hodgson said his team showed great resilience to hang on for the victory.
“I’m proud of the boys,” Hodgson said. “It was not the prettiest of games in the second half, but we didn’t let a try in. If we get our attack to match our defense, we will be a great side.”
Highlanders skipper Brad Thorn lamented his side’s errors.
“It was another disappointing one,” Thorn said. “It was just the little things, they are hard lessons and hopefully [at] some stage this year we will learn them.”