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Brumbies v Crusaders: The Wright man for Wallabies, All Blacks trio dominate

By Finn Morton
Tom Wright of the Brumbies celebrates scoring a try with team mates during the round 13 Super Rugby Pacific match between ACT Brumbies and Crusaders at GIO Stadium, on May 18, 2024, in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The Crusaders stand on the brink of Super Rugby Pacific elimination before the playoffs with the defending champions going down 31-24 in an all-time epic clash in Canberra on Saturday afternoon.

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For the first time since 2009, the Crusaders have been beaten by the Brumbies. It was 24-all with time all but up on the clock, but a penalty try and yellow card inside the final minute ended up being the final say.

The match had a bit of everything. There was running rugby, solid defence and even some clever strategy by way of tactical kicking for those rugby tragics who, much like this writer, love that side of the game.

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Here are some takeaways.

The Wright man for a Wallabies job

There are plenty of quality outside backs in Australian rugby. The Reds had Jock Campbell on the bench earlier this season for crying out loud, which just goes to show the quality coach Les Kiss has to pick from up at Ballymore in Brisbane.

If you look around the nation, it’s a similar story. The Waratahs have the likes of Mark Nawaqanitawase, Max Jorgensen and even Triston Reilly, the Rebels have Darby Lancaster and Andrew Kellaway, and there’s Test candidates out west as well.

Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt will have some tough selection decision to make ahead of the July Tests against Wales and Georgia, and later The Rugby Championship and beyond. But it’s a good problem to have, as Schmidt would likely agree.

But from the plethora of world-class wingers and fullbacks that call Australia home, Brumbies No. 15 Tom Wright is one man who continues to show that he’s more than ready for an international recall under Schmidt’s tutelage.

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Wright, who had experience as a playmaker in the NRL, threw an outrageous dummy in the lead-up to his first try at GIO Stadium. The fullback got the better of Crusaders first five Fergus Burke before running away for the popular Brumbies try.

Then, with only a couple of minutes left in the first term, Wright may have outdone himself. Wright showed both pace and determination to reel in a Nick Frost ‘soccer’ kick – yes, the headgear-wearing blindside flanker – to cross in the 38th minute.

Add on to the work Wright does as a player in general play, his accuracy with the boot when exiting from inside his own 22, and the tidy work the fullback does on the defensive side of the ball, then this man has the makings of a Wallaby-worthy candidate.

“He’s in some wonderful form at the moment, Tom Wright,” two-time Rugby World Cup winner Tim Horan said on Stan Sport at half-time.

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“He’s made for Super Rugby Pacific… he’s really reduced his error rate,” Horan added later on. “You’d expect to see him in a gold jersey… he’s just choosing the right time, the right option at the moment.”

Wright has experience as a winger and that plays into his favour ahead of a potential Test recall. The 26-year-old made a try-scoring debut on the wing for the Wallabies years ago in Brisbane and has gone on to impress on both the edge and at fullback at Test level.

Joe Schmidt will like that.

Versatility is your friend as a coach or national selection, and that’s part of the reason why Tom is the Wright man for the job with the Wallabies in 2024. That’s not to say he should necessarily start but his form can’t be ignored.

Match Summary

0
Penalty Goals
1
5
Tries
3
2
Conversions
3
0
Drop Goals
0
85
Carries
106
7
Line Breaks
9
6
Turnovers Lost
15
2
Turnovers Won
3

All Blacks front row stands tall against Wallabies pair

“Weaponised” was the word one of the Stan Sport commentators used as they described the influence, impact and dominance of the Crusaders’ all-All Blacks front row on Saturday afternoon.

While the lineout had been a bit hit-and-miss up until that point, there was no doubt the Crusaders’ scrum was firmly in control. It started strong and carried through for the duration of their time on the field.

At the first scrum of the contest, the Crusaders won the ball back against the feed. The second shove from Joe Moody was especially important as they got the better of James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa and Co.

The Crusaders were also good enough to win a penalty on the Brumbies’ feed late in the first half. Fletcher Newell was highlighted – and quite fairly, too – for his particularly sensational and impactful effort in that moment.

It was a similar story after the break with the Crusaders winning another scrum penalty just a few minutes into the second 40.

“Amazing quality… the boys have really bought in and really dominating,” Crusaders coach Rob Penney said on the Stan Sport broadcast during the second half.

“Hopefully can squeeze the Brumbies with it in the second half.”

All Blacks props Fletcher Newell and Joe Moody, as well as hooker Codie Taylor, stood tall at scrum time with brilliant efforts against the Wallabies’ veteran pair of James Slipper and Allan Alaalatoa.

“Pretty disappointed from us,” James Slipper said on the broadcast during the second half.

Crusaders continue to be haunted by familiar horrors in first half

After losing to the Highlanders last time out, Crusaders captain Codie Taylor highlighted the team’s poor discipline as a main factor as to why they were beaten. It was a familiar issue then, and it’s carried into the round 13 clash against the Brumbies as well.

When playing against a team that boasts as much talent as the ACT, it’s something no team can afford to do. Whether it’s inaccuracy around the park or just silly mistakes, it’s a point for concern when it’s not going well.

The Crusaders got off to a pretty underwhelming start at the set-piece. Captain Taylor failed to hit the mark with his first two throws at the lineout and there were more issues on the way in the first 40 minutes alone.

David Havili threw a forward pass in the lead-up to what would’ve been a try to Sevu Reece. That was one moment that seemed to prove decisive – the Crusaders had looked quite good up until that point but the Brumbies took control after the score was ruled out.

Later, the Crusaders gave away a penalty advantage moments before Rob Valetini was held up over the try line. Instead of celebrating their defensive efforts, they were under the pump again. The Brumbies ended up scoring through Andy Muirhead moments later.

About one minute later, fullback Johnny McNicholl dropped a high ball in midfield. Most of the Crusaders players were offside so they couldn’t touch it, and the hosts made the most of that. The Brumbies went left which led to Tom Wright’s first stunning try.

Suddenly, on the back of their own mistakes, the Crusaders – who were playing for their season at the Canberra venue – were down by two scores.

In the 18th minute, Jahrome Brown knocked the ball on but the Crusaders had given a penalty advantage away. Fortunately for the visitors that instance of poor discipline didn’t lead to points in the Brumbies’ favour.

Six minutes later, while they were playing with an advantage, the Crusaders knocked the ball on with the try line practically within reach. The Brumbies were somewhat reeling in defence at that stage but the visitors couldn’t make the most of it.

With the Brumbies down to 14 men after a yellow card, it took the ‘Saders three different instances of attacking phase play to finally end their scoreless run. It was a positive they scored, of course, but some issues remained.

Finally, after being awarded a scrum penalty in the 35th minute against their feed, the Crusaders kicked the ball dead. That gifted the Brumbies a scrum of their own and while it wasn’t immediate, they ended up scoring again a couple of minutes later through Tom Wright.

The verdict on Fergus Burke’s return

When the Crusaders named their team to take on the Brumbies earlier this week, there was one name who stood out more than the rest. Finally, after weeks and weeks and weeks, the Crusaders picked Fergus Burke at first five.

Burke, who was unveiled as a Saracens signing in early April, had been named to start alongside younger Noah Hotham in the halves after overcoming an Achilles injury that had signalled the playmaker up until this point in the season.

The selection of Burke also allowed coach Rob Penney to shift All Black David Havili from the No. 10 slot and out into inside centre. That in itself seemed like an important selection with Burke set to take some playmaking pressure off Havili.

With Burke’s comeback match now in the books, it’s fair to say that Burke was solid without doing anything especially sensational. The Crusaders did look more settled with Burke in the team, that’s true, and that speaks volumes in itself.

Burke kicked quite well in general play and provided an important link between the forwards and the backs. As expected, it also allowed David Havili to play a bit more freely in a position that is a tad more familiar to the New Zealand international.

With two matches still to play in the regular season, it’ll be interesting to see how and if Burke and Havili can save the Crusaders’ season by steering them to the finals. But only time will tell as if they’re good enough to make that happen.

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Comments

8 Comments
D
David 35 days ago

Who will Joe select for the back three with so many in form candidates? Just hope he doesn’t get shafted like Dave Rennie and to a lesser extent Deans.

G
Graham 35 days ago

Adding to earlier comment. Cullen Grace has been playing great at no6. Lio-Willie , who was on fire a few weeks ago, had a bad game. I think Cullen should have been moved to 8 earlier, Dominic Gardiner on earlier. Feel for Quinten Strange , put in a big shift .

G
Graham 36 days ago

As a Crusaders fan , so disappointed , again.But I think Fergus Burke was all class for the Crusaders in his first game since October last year. Fletcher Newell , was so good at prop. Johnny McNicoll has been gold since returning from Wales. Noah Hotham brilliant , in a coming of age second season for the Crusaders.Jone Rova did really well at centre. The end of the game was tough.Sevu Reece , what a game/season in tough times.

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