Even in defeat, Brumbies coach Dan McKellar lauded it as the shot in the arm Australian rugby so desperately needed.

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He wasn’t wrong as Saturday’s night’s 2020 Super Rugby AU grand final rematch between the Brumbies and the Queensland Reds exceeded all expectations as a spectacle in Canberra.

McKellar could barely care that the Brumbies finished on the wrong end of the 40-38 scoreline in a near-point-a-minute instant classic in which Queensland only hit the front for the first time with just minutes remaining.

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Rugby’s image, and its bottom line, has taken a battering over the past two years but the Reds’ incredible comeback victory, from 17-0 down early and then 15 points with half an hour to play, had fans and McKellar gushing.

In a true sporting rarity, the losing coach even reserved special praise for referee Nic Berry, the former Reds star player who took up officiating after retiring in 2012 and clearly understands the game.

“It was a great contest. It’d be nice to be sitting in the stands as a neutral ’cause that’s what rugby needs: 78 points, five tries to four,” McKellar said.

“A really strong rivalry is developing between us and the Reds. I know it’s always been there but between these two teams in particular. They’re playing with a really positive mindset. We went out to the same.

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“I thought Nic Berry was outstanding in managing the game. His comms to the players, his decisions at key times.

“So there’s a lot to like about it from a rugby point of view.”

The Brumbies appeared on track to maintain their unbeaten start to the season when replacement back Issak Fines–Leleiwasa crossed out wide to give them an eight-point buffer with eight minutes to go.

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But a James O’Connor penalty, then the skipper’s conversion of Jordan Petaia’s miracle last-gasp try from a Hunter Paisami grubber stole it for the Reds.

With starting props Scott Sio (elbow) and Tom Ross (knee) injured and the Brumbies’ entire bench cleared, the reigning champions’ playing stocks were stretched to the limit.

But McKellar refused to offer excuses and take the gloss off the game.

“We were pretty wounded towards the end there,” he said.

“One or two decisions go your way, (even) one decision goes your way, or we don’t drop a kick-off and we’re sitting here as winners. So you don’t want to be too wrapped up in the result.

“No doubt we’ll play the Reds a couple more times this year, I would imagine, so I’m really pleased for the game, to be honest.”

Despite the loss, the Brumbies remain top of the table, two points ahead of the undefeated Reds, with next week’s bye coming at the perfect time for McKellar’s men to physically and mentally regroup.

– Darren Walton

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