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'It's a bit personal': Lolesio has the last laugh but Gordon shines as Brumbies hang on in epic showdown

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Editor
7th May, 2023
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The Brumbies and Rebels would have given their respective coaches Stephen Larkham and Kevin Foote heart palpitations, but Eddie Jones would have left AAMI Park smiling after an Australian classic on Sunday afternoon.

In greasy conditions after lunchtime rain, both sides put on a show but the Brumbies prevailed 33-26 in a brilliant affair in Melbourne.

The Brumbies looked like they would run over the top of the Rebels when Rob Valetini crashed over in the 63rd minute.

After multiple second half fades, including two against the Blues and Crusaders in the past month at home, it seemed like the Rebels’ depth and fitness would once again be exposed.

But some more poor execution from the Brumbies out of their half after scoring points, as well as a dog’s breakfast at the breakdown as Kiwi referee allowed both teams to get away with murder, gave the Rebels a sniff.

Noah Lolesio scored a first half double against the Rebels at AAMI Park, on May 07, 2023, in Melbourne. Photo:  Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Eventually, the try came as the Brumbies’ lineout transition crumbled and Carter Gordon – the star of the day in his head to head battle with Noah Lolesio – swooped on the loose ball from Luke Reimar’s poor pass and scored to cut the margin to a converted try in the 72nd minute.

With all the momentum and more territory, the home side turned down multiple set-piece opportunities from penalties and instead played on quickly hoping to crash over. But after twice being held up over the line, the Rebels’ hopes were dashed when Cabous Eloff’s try was overturned for a second effort on the floor.

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Not even a yellow card to Darcy Swain for cynical play on his own line helped, as the Rebels continued to try to barge over from close range. It didn’t work.

“We failed to execute there at the end,” vice-captain and centre Reece Hodge lamented.

“In hindsight, we probably should have gone the scrum with one of their locks off the field and closed it out. It’s disappointing.”

 

Lachlan Lonergan’s jersey was stripped on the stroke of half time at AAMI Park, on May 07, 2023, in Melbourne. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Brumbies skipper Allan Alaalatoa was just happy to come away with the win, having almost blown the game in the final 15 minutes of the match.

“It was good,” he said. “You’ve definitely got to be proud of the effort.

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“I thought maybe towards the last 10 minutes we lacked a bit of concentration and allowed them to get back into the game.

“But on the other side of that, I was just proud of the effort. Some big defensive plays on our goal line there saved the game today.”

While the match was billed as the Rebels versus the Brumbies, there was a game within a game as Gordon and Lolesio went toe-for-toe.

Lolesio scored a brilliant double, storming onto a ball to coast through after eight minutes before linking up beautifully with Tom Wright to score a second.

The vexed 23-year-old Test playmaker, who was repeatedly picked and dumped under Dave Rennie before being left out of Jones’ first training squad in April, yelled out “Carter Gordon” as he dived over for his second.

It wasn’t missed.

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“Did he just say what I think he said?” Morgan Turinui asked in commentary. “I think he said someone’s name then.”

As the players broke for half-time, Lolesio let everyone in on what the game meant to him as he fights for a place on Jones’ World Cup ticket to France.

“It’s a bit personal this game but I’ll keep it on the field,” he said.

Not to be overshadowed, Gordon was brilliant.

He set up two tries with bullet-like passes, took the ball to the line, kicked well and was courageous in defence.

Even after getting flattened by Tamati Tua, the 22-year-old got up like a flash.

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His physicality and ability to get back up would not have gone unnoticed by Jones, who was watching in the stands alongside defence coach Brett Hodgson and high performance guru David Rath.

Carter Gordon is joined by teammates after scoring against the ACT Brumbies at AAMI Park, on May 07, 2023, in Melbourne. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

While the Brumbies were very much their own worst enemy, the Rebels never went away and, with the exception of the final stages, regularly made the visitors pay.

Indeed, the Rebels raced out of the blocks in the second minute as breakaway Josh Kemeny burst onto an offload from back-row teammate Richard Hardwick and ran 50 metres to score.

Two excellent tries from Noah Lolesio saw the Brumbies take a 14-7 lead after 21 minutes, but not for the first time in the half the Brumbies failed to exit cleanly after scoring points.

The Rebels made the Brumbies pay as Lachie Anderson scored out wide after a beautiful left-to-right ball from Gordon.

A dominate rolling maul saw the Brumbies score through Jahrome Brown after 33 minutes and Lolesio’s conversion from out wide gave the visitors a 21-14 half-time lead.

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The Brumbies looked like they would move into cruise mode when Brown had his second from a well-executed maul.

But Anderson’s second from another stunning Gordon pass that cut out two defenders kept the Rebels alive.

Some patient build up from the Brumbies eventually saw the visitors extend their lead out to 33-26, before another clumsy exist put the pressure back on them.

Gordon’s try was reward for an outstanding game, but not being able to close the match out will hurt even more.

The defeat leaves the Rebels two points outside the top eight before an important match against the Waratahs in Sydney next weekend, while the Brumbies moved up into second spot on 36 points – nine behind front-runners the Chiefs.

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