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Rob Valetini stars as Brumbies dominate Highlanders in playoff win

By AAP
Brumbies' Ollie Sapsford (L) celebrate with teammate Rob Valetini after their team's victory in the Super Rugby Pacific quarter final match between ACT Brumbies and The Highlanders at Canberra Stadium in Canberra on June 8, 2024. (Photo by TRACEY NEARMY / AFP via Getty Images)

The ACT Brumbies have surged into the Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals to secure a date with destiny against the high-flying Blues in Auckland.

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The Brumbies converted a one-point halftime lead into an authoritative 32-16 victory over the Highlanders in Saturday night’s fourth and last quarter-final.

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Super Rugby Pacific
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32 - 16
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Highlanders
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Victory completed an undefeated home campaign with a perfect 10-from-10 record at GIO Stadium in 2024.

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But their reward is a dubious one.

Stephen Larkham’s benchmark Australian outfit must beat the Blues away from their home fortress for the first time in more than a decade to keep their hopes of snapping a 20-year title drought alive.

The Blues have not only won the past five encounters between the two sides at Australian rugby’s historical burial ground since 2013, but also thrashed the Brumbies 46-7 in a record-setting victory at Eden Park last time around in April.

But that’s tomorrow’s problem as the Brumbies celebrate Saturday night’s second-half shut-out of the Highlanders.

The hosts had stars across the park but no one was more influential than reigning John Eales Medallist Rob Valetini, who was enormous at the breakdown and typically powerful with ball in hand.

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Player Carries

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Rob Valetini
28
2
Tom Wright
20
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Charlie Cale
15

The Highlanders had opened the scoring with a second-minute penalty goal from Cameron Millar following a Brumbies scrum infringement.

But the Brumbies proceeded to dominate for most of the first half, with centre Len Ikitau and speedy winger Corey Toole both going close to scoring off Tom Wright kicks.

It seemed only a matter of time before the Highlanders yielded and there was no denying Andy Muirhead in the 15th minute when the Brumbies spread the ball beautifully from the left all the way across to the right winger to finish.

Only Brumbies ill-discipline and turnovers kept the Highlanders in the contest as two more Millar penalty goals nudged the visitors into a 9-7 lead.

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Noah Lolesio wrestled the advantage back briefly with a Brumbies penalty goal, only for the Highlanders to strike back with a try to winger Jona Nareki.

After four lead changes, the Brumbies deservedly had the final say of the half when hard-working hooker Billy Pollard crashed his way over to give the home side a 17-16 buffer at the break.

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If the result was in doubt after Pollard bagged his second early in the second half, it didn’t look so when classy winger Muirhead showed Lionel Messi-like dribbling skills to complete his own double off a Lolesio cross-field kick in the 46th minute to extend the Brumbies’ lead to 13 points.

It was certainly all over when Lolesio slotted a second penalty to finish the night’s scoring – and the Highlanders’ season.

“Very pleased. We definitely knew that it was going to be a tough game against the Highlanders,” said Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa.

“They’re are a very physical side and they showed that throughout the whole game.

“Finals footy is all about taking your chances, and I thought we did that in the second half.”

The Brumbies face the Blues in the first semi-final on Friday night.

Minor premiers the Hurricanes will play the Chiefs in the second semi-final in Wellington on Saturday, with the winners to host the 2024 title match.

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

2 Comments
s
swivel 16 days ago

Highlanders didn’t need to be up against 16 but they just couldn’t step it up a gear in the second half.

Sucks losing their starting midfield for the game but if they can keep the back three and Tele’a, maybe get someone like Frizzel back, add a title more depth in the tight with spare tryos Slater or Thompson from the Chiefs, hope for an upgrade of DLB, and you could have an infinitely stronger Highlanders next year.

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Mzilikazi 2 hours ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Very good article, Nic, and I find agreement with what you write virtually 100%. I think this two mach series has increasingly become one which will be very difficult for Ireland to win. After the first game of the last 6N, I would have been very full of confidence taking on the Boks in SA. France beaten by a big margin in France, it looked as if Ireland had emerged in fine form from the World Cup, despite the very narrow loss to the AB’s. But after that game, a slide began, ending with the defeat to England. Ireland were very fortunate to win this years 6N ! And as you so fully expose, this has not been a good season for Leinster, or indeed, in my view, for any Irish province. The Leinster loos to the Bulls, and then Munster letting a glorious chance slip to the Glasgow Warriors down at Thomond. Man, that one will really hurt. And both Connacht and Ulster have at times looked very poor this seaso, bith heavily beaten on occassion. The loss of both Gibson Park and Keenan are huge blows, especially Gibson Park. And there is really only one clear class 10 in the touring party, Jack Crowley, and he is still a very young player learning his trade. If he goes down, heaven help Ireland. And in my view, Ireland do not have a good scrummaging front row, SA do, and in great depth too. But despite all this doom and gloom, I always believe my team can win. Not that they will win, just can ! Ireland will still field what is the best and most talented team overall that I have seen in my lifetime. But the coaching group will really have to step up, no awful decisions like the one made against the AB’s in the QF….keeping the totally spent and poorly performing(on the day) Sexton on for the full 80mins, leaving Crowley on the sidelines. Ireland should never have lost that game !

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Shaylen 5 hours ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Ireland have all the tools required to hurt SA. They develop quick ball, hold onto the ball for long periods, stretch the game when its on, have powerful mobile forwards, a good kicking game and they can hold their own in the scrum. They also can force turnovers regularly and in general do well at the breakdown. When Munster, the Ospreys and Glasgow all won games in SA this year against the Bulls and Stormers they did just that and won. It is also the reason why Ireland won the game at the world cup last year. The problem for Ireland is that SA have all the tools required to hurt them as well and hurt them a great deal more than England did in the Six Nations. They are physical and powerful at the set piece, they rush up and counter the Irish attacking system and they can really attack the breakdown and slow your ball down. Their counterattacking threat is also a big weapon and they score many tries from turnover turning defence into offence in a second. Toulouse and the Bulls nailed Leinster in this way and Glasgow did the same thing to Munster. So the series will be really interesting because both sides are so good at countering each other. Interested to see what kind of surprises Tony Brown springs and how the SA game develops. Feel like SA have more potential to surprise Ireland but then a new coaching set up as well as the fact that Japanese and foreign based players tend to take about 5 to 6 weeks to get up to speed might work in Irelands favour. SA have shipped at least one game in 4 of the last 5 June/July test windows going back to 2018 for this exact reason.

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FEATURE Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’? Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?
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