The Brumbies confirmed their status as the most likely challengers to their previous coach’s hopes of winning the Vodacom Super Rugby title with the Cell C Sharks by scoring an emphatic 41-23 win over the Chiefs in Canberra on Friday.
All season the Chiefs, who beat White’s Brumbies team in last year’s final to annex a second successive Super Rugby title, have looked like they are in trouble and not playing as well as last season. But they somehow managed to keep their head above water, and it has only been the last two weekends that have confirmed their slide.
This big defeat comes six days after they lost by one point to the Crusaders at home on Easter Saturday. The Crusaders are now in with a great chance of topping the New Zealand conference next time they play, although the Hurricanes can ease ahead if they beat the Reds and net a four try bonus point in Wellington on Saturday.
The Brumbies’ win was the fourth in succession at home, and their form has given the lie to the pre-season theory that they may struggle without the influence of former director of rugby White in the coaching box.
On recent evidence they have retained the strengths brought in by White but have added a few additional strings to their game that could just see them go all the way this year.
The one-sided win would not have been foreseen when the Chiefs enjoyed most of the territory in the first quarter. An early penalty from Christian Lealiifano was missed by the Brumbies, and they would have won by more had it not been for Lealiifano’s uncharacteristic off-night on the occasion of his return to the starting team.
Instead it was Gareth Anscombe, the Chiefs flyhalf, who drew first blood in the game with a three pointer that was cancelled out in the 17th minute by Lealiifano’s first successful kick.
Anscombe missed a kick of his own in the 20th minute, but a few minutes later he put his team into the lead again, for what was to prove the last time, with his second penalty.
After that it was just about all the Brumbies. The first try was scored by Matt Toomua, who created the opportunity with a pinpoint inside pass as the Brumbies attacked from close range, the flyhalf being on hand to take the final pass and using his body strength to thrust his way over. Lealiifano converted almost from in front and then added a penalty to make it 13-6 to the hosts at half-time.
Anscombe made it a close game with a penalty early in the second half, but that was the last time they scored until the final 10 minutes, when the result was cut and dried.
In the 46th minute the Brumbies moved the ball to the right and Jesse Mogg produced the pass that presented right wing with just the modicum of room he needed in order to squeeze himself through the defenders and reach out to dot down in spectacular fashion in his corner.
Perhaps the real killer blow for the Chiefs came in the 53rd minute, which was when referee Steve Walsh picked up Chiefs replacement James Lowe tripping up Tomane as the Brumbies tried to counter.
Lowe was yellow carded and Nic White kicked the penalty from long range to put the Chiefs 21-9 down going into their period of 10 minutes down to 14 men.
Those 10 minutes proved disastrous, with Tevita Kuridrani scoring twice for the Brumbies, once rounding off an attack from close range in the same corner as Tomane’s earlier try and the second time finishing off a long range counter attack, to secure the Brumbies a four-try bonus point and effectively wrap up the game.
Another White penalty made it 36-9 and although the Chiefs scored two tries in the last 10 minutes of play, they were always going to be no more than consolation efforts, and the Brumbies had the last say in the game when Toomua scored off an intercept off the final move.
Brumbies 41 – Tries: Matt Toomua 2, Tevita Kuridrani 2 and Joe Tomane. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano and Nic White. Penalties: Christian Lealiifano 2 and Nic White 2.
Chiefs 23 – Tries: Brad Weber and Josh Hohneck; Conversions: Andrew Horrell 2; Penalties: Gareth Anscombe 3.