All Blacks star Beauden Barrett kicked a drop goal after the siren to give New Zealand’s top team this season a 21-19 win over Australia’s best, the Brumbies, in a Super Rugby thriller in Canberra.
The Brumbies hit the front with two minutes to play, but were unable to close it out, Wallabies lock Darcy Swain with a crucial error that gave the Blues the decisive opportunity, which they grabbed clinically to extend their winning run to 12 straight.
The Brumbies were always under the gun but looked to have taken what would have been one of their best wins in Super history after two rolling maul tries in the second half stunned the table leaders.
They were battered 16-5 in the penalty count by referee Damon Murphy including a 9-1 advantage in the first period.
“In general, our boys showed so much heart tonight,” said Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa. “Our backs were against the wall throughout the whole game.
“The penalty count was 16-5 and some were our fault but, mate, I reckon we’ll get an apology later in the week.
“We played most of that first half in our D zone and defended out hearts out and that was similar to the second half.. I don’t think we got the rub of the green.
“That’s finals footy for you and a good taste for some of our boys on what’s to come if we get that opportunity later on. I’m just proud of the heart we showed.”
The Blues’ win moved them further ahead on top of the ladder and all but relegated the Brumbies to third place with one round to play.
The Brumbies were off to to a flying start, Swain nabbing a lineout steal before Pete Samu crossed inside three minutes. It was a lead they held until almost two minutes after the half time siren and in between it was virtually one way traffic.
That the Blues, who went to the break leading just 8-7 thanks to a Barrett try with the final play of the half, spoke volumes for the defensive grit of the Brumbies.
Weighed down by that 9-1 penalty count, and with just 25 percent of the first half possession, the Brumbies were forced into sustained periods of desperate defending.
Folau Fainga’a and Swain both spent 10 minutes in the sin bin and for a little over a minute the Blues enjoyed a two-man advantage. But Fainga’a did well to prevent a try before his yellow card and the Blues were held up over the line on three occasions.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar was clearly livid with the first half performance of Murphy, and while his claim that team was smashed 12-1 in penalties was an exaggeration, his assessment of the Brumbies’ bravery was spot on.
At one stage winger Andy Muirhead had to join the Brumbies pack as they attempted to stem the tide, the home crowd booing every time Murphy raised his arm or waved the yellow card.
Nic White put a drop out over the sideline as the pressure intensified, but it wasn’t until the final scrum of the half that the Blues found the necessary cohesion and Barrett took the second pass off the base and dived over for a try.
The halftime break gave the Brumbies a chance to reset and they took it. With 11 minutes gone in the second half Roger Tuivasa-Sheck spilled the ball in midfield and White scooped it up, his little legs road runnering towards the Blues tryline as fast as he could.
RTS managed to bring him down 10 metres out, but did so illegally, wrangling him to the ground with a hand around White’s scruff. In the background chase All Blacks winger Caleb Clarke blew a hammy and had to leave the game.
The Brumbies chose to kick for the sideline and soon after they got their famed rolling maul into action. The Blues disintegrated as Fainga’a crossed for his fourth try of the season and the 33rd of his career.
Tuivasa-Sheck, who is making a challenge to play for the All Blacks this season, seized back the ascendency with a crucial line break on 65 minutes and shortly after the Blues were back in front. Replacement prop Karl Tu’inukuafe surprised the Brumbies by burrowing over the line moments after Swain had pilfered possession under the posts, only to somehow lose it again.
A Blues penalty pushed the Blues advantage to six but the Brumbies kept coming and a penalty allowed them to go back to a familiar well.
Tom Banks kicked to the line and from the lineout the Brumbies were ruthless, Billy Pollard crossing for a carbon copy of Faingaa’s try. Noah Lolesio was nerveless from out near the sideline with the conversion.
The Brumbies had the ball with 50 seconds to play but Swain lost it, not for the first time. The visitors rolled deep into the Brumbies 22 as the siren went and set themselves up under the posts. Murphy signalled another penalty advantage but they didn’t need it – Barrett coolly sinking his drop goal.
“That was almost Test match intensity the impacts and the see saw nature,” Barrett said. “We knew when you come to Canberra you’re in for a hell of a fight and we got that.”
Former Wallabies player Morgan Turinui said the Brumbies need to look beyond Murphy when they review the areas where the Blues dominated.
“They had 30 percent possession, 30 percent territory (it’s) not enough to beat the Blues,” Turinui said. “Yes they went so close. If they can win that arm wrestle in the middle of the park they can avoid this situation at the end.”
But Turinui’s fellow pundit Justin Harrison pointed the finger of blame at Murphy.
“Listen, they’ve got to win the ref wrestle. Looking at that penalty count … I don’t think the Brumbies are that ill-disciplined to deserve that weight of scrutiny.
“Both teams had intent to play and expansive style of game and confrontational and physical, let’s adjust those penalties.”
Turinui countered: “If you’re the Brumbies speaking publicly about this game you have to take the referee out of it.
“There are lessons in this game that the Brumbies can take away that have nothing to do with the referee
“If you’re losing the discipline battle, the penalties at the breakdown are concerning, you need to be good enough to change your tactic at the breakdown, how you’re going into it, how you’re generating fast ball for your own team and take the referee out of it.”