The Brumbies have broken NSW Waratahs’ hearts with a nail-biting 24-23 Super Rugby AU win over their arch-rivals in Sydney. The Waratahs looked set to claim their first victory in five outings against Australia’s 2018 and 2019 conference winners only to concede a try four minutes from full-time.

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Replacement half-back Issak Fines’ late match-winner extended the Brumbies’ winning streak to six matches over all Australian opposition, stretching back to a loss to the Queensland Reds in March last year.

It was also extremely cruel on Rob Penney’s rebuilding Waratahs, who dominated for much of the match on Saturday having been humbled 47-14 by the Brumbies in the very last game before Super Rugby was suspended in March because of coronavirus.

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The Tahs paid dearly for conceding two tries in three minutes just before half-time after opening up a 20-5 lead. Despite the defeat, classy young five-eighth Will Harrison and NSW’s new-look front row of returning Wallaby Tom Robertson, starting debutant Tom Horton and Harry Johnson-Holmes were the standouts.

Earmarked as potentially the Wallabies’ next No10, Harrison set up a beautiful try for winger James Ramm and slotted three penalties and two conversions for a 13-point personal haul.

His head-to-head tussle with fellow former Australian U20s star Noah Lolesio only lasted half an hour before Lolesio limped off with a hamstring injury. The Waratahs suffered a blow even before kick-off, with reserve prop Angus Bell ruled out after hurting his back in the warm-up.

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It was a tough setback for the Brumbies, who only 15 minutes earlier lost Wallabies prop James Slipper after he failed a HIA. The visitors had a ready-made replacement in Test star Scott Sio, but it didn’t stop NSW’s new-look front row from dominating at scrum time.

The Brumbies turned down a gift three points early, opting against taking a penalty goal attempt from right in front and the gamble paid off. Instead, Tom Cusack opened the scoring with a try in the fifth minute after Harrison spilt Lolesio’s crossfield bomb straight into the flanker’s arms.

Harrison atoned with two penalties to edge the Waratahs ahead 6-5 as the home team gained the ascendancy. Enjoying all the momentum and with the Brumbies down to 14 men after winger Andy Muirhead was yellow-carded for a deliberate offside trying to thwart an attacking raid, the Tahs extended their advantage when hooker Horton marked his starting debut with a five-pointer from the back of a driving maul.

Harrison’s inch-perfect kick for Ramm earned the Waratahs their second try and suddenly the underdogs had a 15-point buffer after 29 minutes.

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The Brumbies’ predicament threatened to go from bad to worse when Lolesio departed but instead of losing their way, they clawed their way back into the contest with two tries in three minutes to hooker Folau Faingaa and flanker Robbie Valenti to trail by just three points at the break.

NSW WARATAHS 23 (Horton, Ramm tries; Harrison 2 cons 3 pens) 

BRUMBIES 24 (Cusack, Fainga’a, Fines, Valetini tries; Kuenzle 2 cons)

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