The ACT Brumbies survived a gritty fightback yesterday to pick up where they left off before the coronavirus shutdown with a battling 31-23 win over the Melbourne Rebels.
The Canberra-based side got off to a flyer before the 15-team southern hemisphere Super Rugby competition was halted because of the pandemic in March, winning five of their first six. One of those was over the Rebels and it was a repeat performance at home yesterday in their opener of the 10-round Super Rugby AU.
The domestic competition kicked off on Friday with the Queensland Reds scoring their first win in seven years over NSW Waratahs. Western Force, who were axed from Super Rugby in 2017, return to the top-flight in round two next week.
Brumbies flew out of the blocks yesterday and made the turn 19-6 ahead before the Rebels battled to within one point as the clock ticked down, with a late Will Miller try ensuring the Brumbies asserted their status as tournament favourites.
“We started really well, came out of the gates, but you know the quality side the Rebels are, they came out hard in the second half and made it really tough,” said Brumbies skipper Allan Alaalatoa. “I was really pleased with how we finished the game.”
Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty said there were plus points for his team despite the defeat.
“We left ourselves a bit too much to do there at the end, and it was on the end of ill-discipline,” he said. “But I thought our forwards did a really good job. Plenty of lessons for us and we’ll build on that.”
Aside from lock Blake Enever leaving for Leicester, the Brumbies had much-the-same side as before the enforced break.
That included a strong pack boasting Wallabies James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a and Alaalatoa, alongside a dynamic backline led by Tevita Kuridrani.
Renowned for their set-piece strength, they executed a perfect play from a lineout after just two minutes, with Fainga’a offloading to sprinting winger Andy Muirhead for the opening try which Noah Lolesio converted.
Matt To’omua, in his 100th Super Rugby game, kicked the Rebels first points soon after and they began growing in confidence. But the Brumbies are an ever-present danger from the lineout and bagged try number two from a well-worked driving maul, with scrum-half Joe Powell stepping inside two defenders to touch down.
A rampaging Fainga’a scored his sixth try of the season minutes later as the Brumbies turned up the pressure heading into half-time. They returned in the same vein with young fly-half Lolesio slipping through two Rebels’ players to make a break from halfway, offloading to Tom Wright to dot down.
But the Rebels woke up and lifted their game with two tries within five minutes from Jordan Uelese and Haylett-Petty seeing the momentum shift as they pulled back to 24-20 with 16 minutes left. Another To’omua penalty put them within a point before the Brumbies pulled off another classic set-piece play, rolling a maul to the line with Miller flopping down for the decisive try.
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