The Brumbies have secured a home quarterfinal against the Hurricanes next week, and eliminated the Rebels from this season’s competition with an efficient 33-17 win in Canberra.
The home team went into a breakdown war without two of their Wallabies props – new dad James Slipper and injured Allan Alaalatoa – but it was a couple of special tries from their outside backs that proved the difference. Their quarterfinal is expected to be on the same ground and same time next week.
Winger Corey Toole added another to his growing highlights reel in the first half that had Stephen Hoiles gushing: “That’s what he does probably better than any winger in the competition. He makes half a yard become a five pointer.”
Toole, however, could be in some doubt for the final next week, having hobbled off in the first half.
Coach Stephen Larkham suggested one of his players was in doubt already.
“I haven’t actually had the chance to get back into the sheds yet (but) a few guys came off the field in a bit of pain,” he said.
“From everything I’ve heard so far, there might be one guy that might struggle for next week, but outside of that we should be good.”
That first half try was bettered by a crucial first home try of the season for the Wallabies No.15 favourite Tom Wright early in the second half.
The Rebels won the up front battle in the first half but went to the sheds down 12-10, after a Carter Gordon try. They were hammering on the door near the Brumbies line when the home team came up with a turnover on 46 minutes.
In a flash – and with some passing and trickery that would have thrilled the Harlem Globetrotters – they surged down field and Wright planted the ball down for what was essentially a 14-point swing.
The Rebels had lost their own No.15 gold jersey contender Andrew Kellaway to a head knock before the break, and their injury woes didn’t end there. The last 30 minutes of the game saw uncontested scrums after both Rebels hookers Jordan Uelese and Alex Mafi were forced off.
There was also a tense moment for Nick Frost and Wallabies fans when the towering lock went down injured with what at first appeared to be a knee injury. Frost thought the worst initially before he was able to get back to his feet and finished the game
“It was pretty scary. I’ve never done my knee so I thought … it was obviously pretty intense pain and it felt awkward. I did think that [that he might miss the Test season] , when I laid on my back. I thought about few blokes I’ve seen do them.”
The Rebels needed to win to get into the top eight and came out with plenty of intensity.
Brumbies flanker Tom Hooper called his team’s first-half breakdown work “a dog’s breakfast. We’ve got no real composure out there.”
“It’s ferocious, isn’t it?” said Justin Harrison at halftime. “Both teams are trying everything they’ve got in those contact areas. And of course that’s a design on disrupting the rhythm that we know that both of these teams can bring – Rebels looking for width, Brumbies looking looking for continuity. Neither team is able to find it at the moment.”
Hoiles added: “The Brumbies have a slight lead but the Rebels have won the battle of the breakdown.”
Richard Hardwick, Brad Wilkin and Sam Talakai were all playing well, and the Rebels would have fancied themselves as right in the game until Wright’s try turned the tide for good.
Wilkin was rewarded for his endeavour with a late try, converted by Reece Hodge in his 100th and final Super Rugby game, but the Brumbies iced it for good when Andy Muirhead joined the back three party with a late five-pointer.