The Brumbies played the conditions better in the first half and their big lead at the break was enough of a buffer for them to hang on for a deserved 20-13 win over the Blues in a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Auckland on Saturday.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen summed it up when he was interviewed on television afterwards. He said that his team had been very comfortable when they woke up in Auckland on the morning of the match and saw the heavy rain fall. A wet weather game played right into their hands as they were planning to play a territory game against the dangerous Blues anyway.
They also had the benefit of a strong wind behind them in the first half, with that wind apparently dropping in the second half, when the Blues managed to come back strongly after being harangued by an irate Sir John Kirwan, their coach, at halftime.
Kirwan was picked up on the television cameras having a real go at his team during the break, and the players deserved it after a first half where they showed absolutely no appreciation of how to adapt tactically to the wet conditions.
Let it also be said though that the Blues also let themselves down badly throughout the match with their poor first phase play, and the inaccuracy at the lineouts and a scrum penalty given away near the hour mark prevented them from retaining the momentum that had shifted their way in the third quarter.
The Brumbies led 14-0 at halftime and were as dominant as that scoreline would suggest. They played almost all the game in the Blues territory, and their kicking game was spot on. Their scrumming was strong and so was their driving as the Blues were placed under the pressure that saw them give away penalties that Brumbies sharp-shooter Christian Lealiifano gleefully accepted.
The first came as early as the first minute of the game, so effectively the Brumbies led for 79 minutes. It wasn’t a perfect performance from Lealiifano when it came to goalkicking, for he did miss another opportunity four minutes later, but he was back on target again after a quarter of an hour for the Brumbies to lead 6-0.
The only Brumbies try in the match was scored by scrumhalf Nic White off a combination of factors that sum up the strength of the Brumbies game – there was a perfectly directed box kick, and then the Brumbies forwards drove over the Blues, who released the ball and White kicked through. The scrumhalf won the race to the ball but had to slide at least five metres across the wet turf before completing the try.
The Blues did have their opportunities in the second part of the first half, and appeared to be settling, with their best scoring opportunity coming when Ali Williams barged over the line but was adjudged to have been held up by the TMO (it looked like the correct call).
A Lealiifano penalty on the stroke of halftime provided a further psychological boost for the Brumibes as they went to the change-room, but Kirwan’s histrionics in the Blues’ locker-room had the desired effect.
The Blues went straight onto the attack, and Blues skipper Williams might have been justified in his appeal for a penalty try when a Brumbies player intercepted a ball form an offside position just off the Brumbies’ tryline. From the television evidence it looked like there were Blues players outside but no Brumbies.
The Blues messed up their opportunity to score when they were placed under pressure in the scrum they opted for from the penalty, but the Brumbies backs were up too quickly and referee Lourens van der Merwe, who had a good game, blew them up for being off-side. This time Williams opted for the shot at goal and Chris Noakes put his team’s first points on the board.
The Blues then bounced right back into the contest with a brilliant try to Rene Ranger. It was a move that was started inside the Blues half, the final impetus for the try coming off a Piri Weepu break from a recycle near the Brumbies 22. Weepu’s pass to Ranger enabled the big centre to get his arms and head through the defenders and he surged several metres with Brumbies players on his back before reaching out and touching down.
The conversion made it a four point game, and the momentum was strongly with the Blues. But then came the scrum penalty after 60 minutes that Lealiifano kicked to stretch the lead to seven, and although Noakes drew another one back after that to once again reduce the lead, the sequence was repeated again as Lealiifano kicked a long-range penalty with seven minutes left that appeared to rob the Blues of some of their composure.
They never looked like scoring the seven pointer they needed in those conditions, but should at least be pleased with the bonus point they grabbed for losing by seven as it looked highly unlikely they would get anything from the match at halfttime.
It was enough to draw the Blues level with the Crusaders on log points, but both the New Zealand teams are 10 points behind New Zealand conference leaders, the Chiefs, who will feel they have gained significantly out of this weekend’s action so far.
So have the Brumbies as their win means they are still in touch with the Chiefs on the overall log and will still be ahead in the Australian conference at the end of the weekend regardless of what happens when the Reds face the Stormers in Cape Town later on Saturday.
Blues – Try: Rene Ranger. Conversion: Chris Noakes. Penalties: Chris Noakes, Baden Kerr.
Brumbies – Try: Nic White. Penalties: Christian Lealiifano (5).