The ACT Brumbies clung to a five-point lead through all of the second half to beat the Auckland-based Blues 25-20 Sunday and stay unbeaten after two rounds of Super Rugby Pacific.
The Brumbies scored three tries including a penalty try to lead 25-20 at halftime and held on through a second half which often played at frantic pace in searing heat to claim an important win for an Australian team over a New Zealand opponent.
The match was reminiscent of the semifinal between the teams last year which the Blues won 20-19 in Auckland. The Brumbies ability to hold on at key moments, control the pace and often pin the Blues in their own half was decisive.
“That first half was just test match intensity,” Brumbies scrumhalf Nic White said. “Every breakdown, every carry, every tackle was just everyone giving it everything. It was great footy, a really tight contest and you know you’re going to get that against the Blues.”
The Brumbies benefited from a 19-5 penalty count in their favor. The Blues had a horror start, conceding five consecutive penalties which led to the first yellow card which went against All Blacks winger Caleb Clarke in the seventh minute.
They were then punished again for collapsing a Brumbies lineout drive over their goal line and along with the penalty try, James Lay joined Clarke in the sin-bin.
The Blues managed to score a try through hooker Ricky Riccittelli while still two men down but the Brumbies exploited their numerical advantage with a classic catch and pass move which put winger Andy Muirhead an overlap. Muirhead’s converted try gave his team its 17-7 lead.
The Blues narrowed the gap with penalty kicks before an outstanding solo try to backrower Tom Robinson to bring them level at 20-20. Robinson stepped a Brumbies defender on halfway, burst into the clear and ran around fullback Tom Wright to score.
The Brumbies once again went to their lineout drive, producing a try to hooker Lachlan Lonergan which gave them a 25-20 lead which lasted for the rest of the match.
The Blues’ best chance might have come with a breakout between Stephen Perofeta and Rieko Ioane in which Ioane chose to die with the ball with two players in support.
“I think we’ve built a rivalry with the Brumbies over the last year and we knew it was going to be a big match,” Blues captain Dalton Papali’i said. “We knew we were going to come here and get a test match caliber game.”
Later Sunday, the Queensland Reds completed the “Super Round” in which all six matches were played over three days in Melbourne with a record 71-20 win over the Western Force.
The 10 tries to three win was the Reds' largest ever in Super Rugby and leaves them 1-1 after their first round loss to the Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, All Blacks backrower Ardie Savea will face a judicial tribunal on Monday after a making a throat-cutting gesture at an opponent during the Hurricanes 39-33 win over the Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
Hurricanes captain Savea was shown a yellow card after a scuffle among players just before halftime and made the gesture towards Rebels scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens as he left the field.
Savea later apologized, saying “fans are furious around the gesture that I made. That’s out of character for me so I put my hand up first and I apologize for that.”
A citing commissioner later determined Savea’s action was a red card offense and he will appear before a Foul Play Review Committee by video call on Monday charged with committing an act against the spirit of good sportsmanship.
The Wellington-based Hurricanes are one of four teams with 2-0 records after two rounds.
On Friday All Blacks flyhalf Richie Mo’unga accepted partial blame for the poor start to the season by the defending champion Crusaders and scored 22 points to drive them to a 52-15 win over the Dunedin-based Highlanders.
The Crusaders opened their season with a shock 31-10 loss to the Hamilton-based Chiefs in Christchurch. When they conceded the first points of Friday’s match — a penalty to Highlanders fullback Sam Gilbert — they had conceded 34 consecutive points over two games.
But Mo’unga put the Crusaders back on course with a brilliant first half try, a penalty and conversions of his team’s seven tries.
“It was brilliant to play some footy,” Mo’unga said. “The Chiefs played a lot of footy last week and we wanted to come out and impose ourselves against the Highlanders.
“I was pretty disappointed in myself as the driver last week. I didn’t get us in the right areas of the field so today is very satisfying.”
The Chiefs also went 2-0 after a 52-29 win over Moana Pasifika who also lost in round one to the Fijian Drua. After an impressive first half the Chiefs led 38-2 but Moana Pasifika were much more competitive in the second half.
The New South Wales Waratahs who lost in the first round to the ACT Brumbies bounced back to beat the Drua 46-17.
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