The ACT Brumbies prevailed over the Auckland Blues in a 26-21 win in Canberra.
The Brumbies returned from their gruelling overseas tour looking to secure a home win in front of their home fans. The Blues travelled to Canberra, coming off a 12-point loss to New Zealand rivals, the Highlanders.
The visiting side were looking to get into the game early and they silenced the crowd when TJ Faiane scored the first five-pointer of the match.
Melani Nanai broke the Brumbies defence before finding Faiane. Tom Banks was in pursuit, but Faiane streaked away to score in the left-hand corner.’
Just moments later, Christian Lealiifano sent out a wide pass in midfield attempting to find his three teammates who had an overlap on the right. Unfortunately, for the Brumbies, he only succeeded in finding New Zealand U20’s representative Caleb Clarke who had a free-run to the line. Otere Black added the extras to send the Auckland side out to a 12-0 lead just after ten minutes.
The home side were stunned by the Blues quick start and set about making amends immediately.
They worked their way into the Blues red-zone and employed their trademark lineout maul. A successful maul meant Brumbies’ hooker, Folau Fainga’a, fell over the chalk for his eighth try of the season. Lealiifano could not kick the conversion and the score stayed at 12-5.
Otere Black also successfully slotted a penalty kick to put the Blues up to 15 points.
The Brumbies turned on the screws late in the half, forcing the Blues into conceding four penalties between the 31st and 36th minutes. The pressure on the defence caused it to eventually cave in as former Queensland Red, James Slipper, cleaned up some loose ball five metres out before putting his head down and scoring his first try for his new club.
This time, Lealiifano added the conversion and the score was 15-12 at half-time in favour of the Blues.
The start of the second half saw the Blues continue to infringe and referee Damon Murphy’s patience eventually ran thin. Ofa Tu’ungafasi was yellow-carded in the 50th minute for joining the maul incorrectly.
With a one-man advantage, the Brumbies attempted to exploit the Blues at the scrum but were unsuccessful. So, they turned to their notoriously successful lineout maul and once again, Fainga’a burrowed his way to the line for his second of the night. Lealiifano kicked a quality conversion to put the Brumbies in the lead by four.
It was time for the Blues to get on the board in the second half though and two offside penalties gave them the perfect opportunity. Replacement back, Harry Plummer, kicked both penalty shots at goal to restore the Blues lead back to 21-19.
Folau Fainga’a was hungry for a hat-trick though and another penalty deep in Blues’ territory put the Brumbies in prime position to hand him the opportunity. Sure enough, a clinical lineout drive resulted in Fainga’a bagging his third of the night and tenth of the season.
A Lealiifano conversion meant the Brumbies led 26-21 heading into the final ten minutes.
A late Blues’ charge after the siren wasn’t enough as the Brumbies hung on for a 26-21 victory.
Next round, the Brumbies play the travelling Sunwolves in a Sunday afternoon clash in the nation’s capital.
The Blues jump back on the plane back to Auckland where they will take on the high-flying Hurricanes.