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The 60-minute period that sunk the fast-starting Brumbies

By Tom Vinicombe
Tom Wright. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

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The Brumbies will lament the fact that after scoring the opening try of the game in the third minute of their Super Rugby Pacific semi-final showdown with the Blues on Saturday night, they failed to build from the early success and didn’t register any further points until late in the third quarter.

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From their first scrum-feed of the game 10 metres inside Blues territory, Brumbies inside centre Irae Simone burst onto the pass from Nic White, brushed aside the tackle of Stephen Perofeta and skipped around Beauden Barrett to grab an easy-as-they-come five-pointer to kick off the match.

From that point on, however, the Blues took hold of the game and after registering back-to-back penalties, managed two tries to round out the first half after some weak defence from the visiting side. When the Brumbies finally started to get their rolling maul functioning in the second half, they were staring down the barrel of a 20-7 scoreline and despite finishing the game as the stronger side, simply ran out of time to nab a victory from the jaws of defeat, ultimately succumbing 20-19.

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Picking an All Blacks squad to take on Ireland.
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Picking an All Blacks squad to take on Ireland.

Unsurprisingly, while Brumbies coach Dan McKellar was pleased with his side’s fight back in the second spell, he suggested that you couldn’t give a side as good as the Blues such a big points start before warming into the match.

“20-7 down, we were probably a little bit rattled, to be honest, at halftime, but we feel we’ve got the best finishing group in the competition and again they showed that tonight, they were outstanding,” he said following the loss.

“It took us 50 minutes to get going. [We] scored that easy try, had a crack at a maul that would’ve put us out 14-3 (but were eventually held up over the line).

“[We] managed to get out way back into the game off the back of some field position and dominance there with territory. But at the end of the day, we just weren’t quite good enough.”

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In last weekend’s fixture with the Hurricanes, the Brumbies had to bounce back from a 10-point halftime deficit, eventually grinding out a 35-25 win. It was on the back of some strong performances off the pine that the Brumbies again found their way back into the game against the Blues, with hooker Lachlan Lonergan, lock Nick Frost and back-rower Luke Reimer all impressing. McKellar was proud of the effort shown from his charges, given the mammoth task they faced at halftime to try and force their way back into the game, but also acknowledged that his side needed to be on the ball from earlier in the piece.

“You’re very proud of the courage and tenacity of the group and the resilience of the group,” he said. “We saw that last week as well and it’s a big part of our culture and environment: resilience. You can talk about it but you’ve got to show it.

“The learnings out of a game like tonight, you can’t wait, you can’t have 40 minutes to get a little prod … You need to capitalise and have that belief and take those opportunities early.

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“When you’ve got (Beauden) Barrett, (Roger) Tuivasa-Sheck, Rieko (Ioane), others there, (Stephen) Perofeta’s been outstanding, (AJ) Lam, you can’t allow them to play off front-foot ball on a platter. You’ve got to go at them and win the collision and dominate the collision and force them to sit a little bit deeper in the pocket. That allows you to nullify their threats because those guys when they get going, they’re world-class.

“And then that 20-to-40-minute period in the first half there, discipline was poor and we just fell off a few too many tackles and they got their offload game going and they’re hard to contain.”

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Despite coming so close to victory, the result will still go down as a disappointment for McKellar and his troops, especially given it was McKellar’s final match as head coach of the Brumbies before moving on to assist with the Wallabies.

Under McKellar’s tenure, the Brumbies have managed four finals appearances and one Super Rugby AU title in 2020 while rediscovering some of the starch that made them such a titan of Super Rugby in the formative days of the competition. As is always the goal, McKellar will be leaving the team in a better place than where he found them.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “I took over at the end of 2017 and had been there for four years as assistant coach and we were pretty structured. We still are very reliant on our maul and tonight we were relying on it again and we knew there’d be games where we’d have to be but I think we’ve developed our game and understand that we need to score more tries and play eyes up footy and not be so reliant on structure to break down opposition defences. There’s been growth in that.”

With the Brumbies the last remaining Australian side in the play-offs, it will be an all-Kiwi affair in Auckland next weekend when the Blues square off with the Crusaders, who were defensively resolute in a 20-7 win over the Chiefs on Friday night.

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