The Brumbies capitalised on their second-half dominance of possession and territory to score an emphatic 24-6 Super Rugby win over the Reds in Canberra on Saturday that would have been seen as a warning for future opponents of Jake White’s team.
Wallaby opensider David Pocock was the star signing by the Bumbies in the off-season, and he wasted little time in showing just what a massive contribution he can make to his new franchise, which he joined from the Western Force. Although it took only a few minutes before he conceded his first breakdown penalty as a Brumbie, he quickly made up for it by being his usual troublesome self to the opposition.
On a night when defences dominated, it was effectively Pocock’s forcing of a penalty as the Reds attacked towards the Brumbies corner flag after a sustained build-up with nine minutes to go that made sure of the win. At that point the hosts only led by eight points (14-6) and a converted try would have put the 2011 champions right back into the game.
As it turned out though, that attack was to be the last instance on the night where the Reds had any opportunity to flex their muscles and get any points, and instead it was the Brumbies who added to their tally as a Nic White 75th minute penalty was added to by a Jesse Mogg intercept try on the final hooter. That ensured that the Reds went away from the Australian capital without even a bonus point and it adds to their need to win the crunch home derby against the Waratahs next weekend.
For the Brumbies, it was the perfect start to the competition as the win brought a measure of revenge on the Reds, who stole their way into the playoffs at the Brumbies’ expense in the last league match of last season.
The Brumbies scored two tries to nil, both of them coming from fullback Mogg. The first was a well created try in the eighth minute as the Brumbies effectively used the rare bit of possession that came their way in those early stages, with Pocock doing good work before the Brumbies scrumhalf put a chip kick through that Mogg gathered and dotted down near the right corner flag.
The early minutes had been dominated by the Reds, who kicked a penalty through Mike Harris in the second minute but then were unable to capitalise further on early Brumbies indiscipline when Harris missed two longish but kickable attempts.
It was not a good night for any of the place-kickers, with the Brumbies missing the Christian Lealiifano conversion attempt, and then the Brumbies flyhalf, back in the game after missing the second half of last season through injury, missing a penalty in the 20th minute of the match.
Harris then made up for his earlier misses by slotting one that took his team back into a 6-5 lead, but that was the last time the Reds scored in the game. They were systematically suffocated out of the rest of the match, with the Reds’ good work at the breakdown keeping it even until halftime but the Brumbies’ superiority in first phase taking its toll after that.
White kicked his first of two penalties four minutes before halftime to make it 8-6 to the Brumbies, and then in the first 10 minutes of the second half the Brumbies started to get their phase play together. A scrum penalty against the Reds in the 50th minute enabled Mogg to make it 11-6, and he was on target again in the 58th to push the Brumbies more than a score ahead.
That left the Reds to try and make the play in the final quarter but with their scrum battling and the lineout still missing James Horwill, plus an excellent Brumbies defence and Pocock such a nuisance at the breakdown to contend with, they were unable to get enough field position to challenge their rivals.
Former Wallaby wing and South Africa under-21 captain Clyde Rathbone left the field with a quarter of an hour to go but with his 50th cap for the Brumbies securely tucked away among his list of rugby achievements. He didn’t get much opportunity to run in his first game since retiring three years ago, but he did put in some strong tackles and was forceful on those occasions he did have ball in hand.
The win would have completed a dream comeback for the former KZN south coast schoolboy following a troubled period of his life where he apparently suffered depression, was split from his wife and gained a lot of weight. He certainly looked like the old Rathbone, in other words superbly conditioned, when he ran out ahead of his teammates and acknowledged the applause of the Canberra crowd.
Brumbies – Tries: Jesse Mogg (2). Conversion: Robbie Coleman. Penalties: Nic White (2), Mogg (2).
Reds – Penalties: Mike Harris (2).