All Blacks skipper Sam Cane hailed the Brumbies as “benchmarks” after his outclassed Chiefs succumbed 38-28 in a pivotal Super Rugby Pacific encounter in Hamilton.
The Brumbies not only restored some battered pride to Australian rugby – following a sorry weekend for the Queensland Reds and Melbourne Rebels – but also reaffirmed their title credentials at FMG Stadium Waikato.
The Brumbies parlayed a resolute defensive display into a clinical attacking performance to consolidate second spot on the ladder despite the Chiefs’ clear possession and territorial advantage.
No wonder Brumbies captain Nic White was delighted.
“The boys really rolled up the sleeves tonight. Really proud of that effort. They’re an unbelievable side,” White said.
“We’d spoken about the intensity we’d have to go up. We’ve had a couple of good wins (over Kiwi sides) but they were at home. It’s very tough to come away and win.”
The stirring victory followed the table-topping Blues’ 71-28 humiliation of the Rebels on Friday night and the Highlanders scuppering of Queensland’s home final hopes with a 27-19 comeback over the Reds in Brisbane.
It also boosted NSW’s finals prospects, with the Waratahs joining the fourth-placed Chiefs on 32 competition points after a 26-20 triumph over Moana Pasifika in Auckland earlier on Saturday.
The Brumbies were clinging to an 18-14 lead after the two sides traded a pair of tries in an entertaining first half.
But Lenny Ikitau’s strike two minutes after the break blew the game open, sending the Brumbies two converted tries clear.
The buffer proved enough despite powerhouse No.8 Pita Sowakula briefly reducing the deficit to seven points with a try in the 57th minute.
Finishing hooker Billy Pollard sealed the deal with a try nine minutes from time as the Brumbies chalked up their fourth win from their past five trips to New Zealand.
The last time the ACT outfit enjoyed a longer winning streak against their vaunted trans-Tasman rivals was a three-match winning stretch eight years ago.
The Brumbies’ run left vanquished Chiefs skipper Sam Cane hailing Dan McKellar’s men as serious contenders to become Australia’s first Super Rugby champions since the Waratahs in 2014.
“We got what we expected from the Brumbies,” Cane said.
“They’ve been setting the benchmarks in some ways throughout the comp and we knew we’d be in for a massive battle here tonight.
“They put a lot of pressure on us at the breakdown – it was messy there – and I thought their kicking game was really good.
“A lot of their contestable kicking was good and they pinned us in areas of the park and, when we tried to play too much in our own half, they were good enough to force an error or a penalty.
“We were always chasing it. It sucks, quite frankly.”
The Brumbies face an even sterner examination of their title credentials in the coming fortnight when they tackle 12-times champions the Crusaders and 2021 winners the Blues in successive games.