If the Sharks and DHL Stormers thought they might have it easy against the Brumbies on their forthcoming tour of South Africa they would have changed their minds watching Jake White’s outfit comprehensively outplay the Waratahs 35-6 in a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Canberra on Saturday.
The Brumbies scored four tries to add a bonus point to their four log points for the win, and they head to Durban for next week’s game against the Sharks at Kings Park sitting pretty in both the Australian conference battle and on the overall log table.
There was never any doubt the Brumbies would win once they had raced into a 9-0 lead in as many minutes at the start of the match as they dominated early possession and territory and forced the Waratahs into mistakes that led to penalties that were kicked by Christian Lealiifano. The Brumbies, wearing a new yellow jersey to celebrate the Canberra centenary, led 21-6 at halftime and scored two tries in each half.
While the victors are styling at this stage of the competition, it is the opposite for the Waratahs. Much was expected of the Sydney team with their new coach, but this was their second defeat and frankly they look a long way from perfecting their so-called new attacking game. They have now lost nine of their last 10 games.
But while the Brumbies were rightly smiling afterwards, the mood would have been tempered by the sight of openside flanker David Pocock hobbling around on crutches during the post-match celebrations. Pocock was helped from the field early in the match and with news filtering through at halftime that the injury is to his ACL, both the Brumbies and the Wallabies face the prospect of being without him for the rest of the season.
It would be hard to say which coach would be more disappointed if Pocock is ruled out for six months, which is the length of time players are normally forced to take off with that type of injury – Wallaby coach Robbie Deans, who watched the game from the stands, or Brumbies mentor White, remembering that the Wallabies have an important series against the British and Irish Lions looming.
Perhaps the problem is less acute for White, as veteran former Wallaby George Smith, now back after a stint in Japan, came on to replace Pocock and played his part in his team’s dominating performance. Pocock went off in the 14th minute with his team 9-0 ahead, so Smith saw 66 minutes of action during which time his side scored 26 points to six.
As has become customary with the Brumbies during the White era, the driving and mauling play of the forwards was to the fore, and it wasn’t really a surprise that it was the driving of their pack that was responsible for the first try. No 8 and captain Ben Mowen dotted down as the Brumbies swarmed over the line from an attacking lineout set up by a penalty in the 25th minute.
That ended what was shaping as a spirited period of resistance from the Waratahs, who enjoyed territorial dominance and the advantage in possession in the second 10 minutes of the game, with scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin kicking a penalty in the 15th minute that made it 9-3. But after Mowen’s score the Waratahs were never closer than a score behind their opponents.
The Brumbies’ kicking game was another aspect of their play that was spot-on, and the try scoring position had been set up by a great kick that led to the Waratahs fullback being caught in possession. Apart from flyhalf Matt Toomua and inside centre Lealiifano, further players to add to the Brumbies’ field kicking accuracy were scrumhalf Nic White and fullback Jesse Mogg.
It was the last mentioned who set up the next try, which came in the 33rd minute, with a perfectly targeted chip kick bounced well for Lealiifano, who went over four metres from the corner flag. Lealiifano converted his own try to make it 21-3, but the Waratahs spent most of the remainder of the half in Brumbies territory and were able to kick a penalty after the siren through McKibbin.
The Brumbies’ Sam Carter was yellow carded for a third infringement when he wriggled back towards the ball from the wrong side of a loose-scrum, but the three points from the McKibbin penalty were the only points the Brumbies conceded while he was off.
The Brumbies were good in the third quarter but the Waratahs appeared to be coming back in the middle stages of the second half, with their decision not to go for posts from two kickable penalties probably being a mistake. If they had found themselves nine points behind they might have brought a sense of equilibrium to their fightback.
Instead though it was the impressive Brumbies who finished the stronger of the two teams, with the irrepressible Mogg playing a hand in both tries they scored in the final quarter. The first was scored by wing Henry Speight, who used the space on the outside that was created by a sustained build-up sparked by a run through the middle from Mogg. This came not long after props from both sides, Benn Alexander and Benn Robinson, had been yellow carded for their part in instigating punch-up beneath the Waratahs’ posts.
The fourth and bonus point try came courtesy of brilliant interplay between Mogg and replacement back Robbie Coleman. Mogg went back to grab a misdirected chip from the Waratahs and then ran it back with interest before passing to Coleman. The Brumbies reserve then kicked ahead and gathered off another good bounce to go over and score the try that capped a great evening for the hosts – if you factor out the injury to Pocock.
Brumbies – Tries: Ben Mowen, Christian Lealiifano, Henry Speight, Robbie Coleman. Conversions: Lealiifano (2), Ian Prior. Penalties: Lealiifano (3).
Waratahs – Penalties: Brendan McKibbin (2).