Brumbies stand-in captain Nic White has lamented his Super Rugby side’s inability to close out the Chiefs after they were downed by a late Aaron Cruden penalty goal.
Cruden slotted the pressure-cooker goal 15 metres in from touch after the siren for the 19-17 win at New Plymouth – denying the Brumbies their first away win against the Chiefs since 2007.
Despite dominating the set piece for most of the match, the Brumbies conceded two late penalty goals from the scrum to lose their four-point lead, forcing them to settle for a bonus point loss.
“We’ve got to learn to close out those games,” White said.
“We started closing it out too early and the Chiefs were willing to play and that’s what got them over the line.”
The match-deciding penalty came from the over-eagerness of Brumbies’ debutant reserve flanker Sean Doyle, who was pinged for unbinding from the scrum too soon.
The two sides have met twice in the finals over the past two seasons and both teams put on an impressive enough performance at Yarrow Stadium to suggest a third could be on the cards in 2015.
There was never going to be much between the new grudge rivals, and with both scoring a try and four penalty goals, all it came down to was a missed conversion by the Brumbies.
“We just tried to outsmart them,” Chiefs captain Liam Messam said.
“They’re a very smart team and the plans that our coaches came up with really worked.”
Chiefs stars Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Cane were late scratchings, but explosive replacement centre Charlie Ngatai made the most of his inclusion and opened the scoring in the 15th minute.
A 9-4 first half penalty count favouring the Brumbies helped them dominate possession, but the Chiefs’ back three shredded their opponents apart with counter-attacks.
The Chiefs’ first kick-return raid led to Ngatai’s try to go up 10-3, and they came agonisingly close to extending that lead through the tactic on numerous other occasions.
White turned down two early penalty shots at goal to go for the seven-points, but his side was repeatedly repelled by some heavy Chiefs defence.
“A lot of the set piece worked well, and we had really long passages of play where we attacked really well,” White said.
“But we’ve got to take points from those moments and we didn’t every time.”
White continued turning down penalties and it finally paid dividends in the 20th minute when No.8 Ita Vaea scored from the back of a well constructed rolling maul to go up 11-10.
The Brumbies were rewarded with penalties at the scrum from referee Steve Walsh up until about the 60th minute, Christian Lealiifano slotting a resulting three-pointer to go up 17-13.
But the Brumbies lost their scrum dominance when their two starting props were replaced midway through the second half, and the Chiefs earned the two penalty goals that would add another chapter in the growing Trans-Tasman rivalry.