Simon Parmiter travelled took in the Waratahs v Brumbies trial and provided this match report for us.
Sweltering conditions greeted the Waratahs and Brumbies at Glen Willow Stadium in Mudgee, NSW for their pre-season trial match with the mercury still in the high 30s at kickoff. The heat and the threatening storms didn’t deter the locals though, with over 6,000 people packing the ground near to capacity and providing a fantastic atmosphere. The match promised to be an interesting one with the Brumbies bringing along a near full-strength team, while the Tahs, in their first hit-up for the season, rested most of their stars and chose to blood some emerging talent. Due to the heat, the game was played in thirds, with the teams switching sides midway through the middle third.
The Brumbies secured possession from the kick-off and for the first 10 minutes, the apparent mismatch on the team sheets appeared to take effect with the Waratahs under heavy pressure and playing deep in their own half against waves of Brumbies attack. The Brumbies won a couple of penalties early but ignored kickable shots at goal to kick for the corner for some maul practice. The Waratahs’ defence held on though, with difficult handling conditions resulting in dropped ball on both sides.
The first scrum resulted in a short-arm penalty to the Tahs, and some powerful runs by lock Senio Toleafoa led to a break down the left wing as the momentum started to shift. The Tahs were awarded a penalty in Brumbies territory and scrumhalf Jake Gordon saw the opportunity to take a quick tap and chipped through for the corner. The ball went into touch just out from the line, but the Brumbies missed the resulting lineout, and Waratahs flanker Jack Dempsey crossed for the first try of the night, halfway through the opening third. Fullback Bryce Hegarty had the kicking duties but missed the conversion.
Momentum had shifted the Tahs’ way and they were dominant for the rest of the night. Within three minutes of the restart the Waratahs were again within the Brumbies’ red zone and a powerful run by Dempsey battered through the defence, allowing Gordon to slip through and score under the posts. Hegarty converted and it was 12-0 Waratahs. The Brumbies secured the restart and quickly won a penalty, again kicking for the corner for a powerful lineout drive that was stopped a metre short of the line. Brumbies scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli snapped up the ball, dummied and went over untouched to score behind the posts. New Kiwi import flyhalf Wharenui Hawera converted.
With a minute left on the clock the Brumbies nearly levelled the scores with a break down the right wing, but the pass to Speight went forward with the tryline beckoning. There was just enough time for a Waratahs scrum, and despite heavy pressure from the Brumbies pack they managed to secure the ball and Gordon put it into touch to close out the first third with the Waratahs leading 12-7.
The middle third saw the lead extended almost immediately as the Tahs put in a chip down the right wing, which winger Reece Robinson regathered to score in the corner. The Brumbies quickly responded after winning a penalty and again kicking for the corner. Lock Sam Carter secured the throw, and after a strongly contested maul the Brumbies finally managed to get hooker Josh Mann-Rea over the line to score. Hawera missed the conversion in what was proving a tough night for the kickers.
Disaster struck the Brumbies shortly after the restart as Cubelli stayed down after a tackle, and had to be helped off with what looked like a bad knee injury, to be replaced by Joe Powell. Cubelli had looked the most dangerous of the Brumbies backs and it was the last thing the Brumbies needed. The Waratahs quickly worked down field off the back of a Robinson break which was pulled down just short of the line. The Brumbies tried to slow the ball down but were penalised, and the Tahs went for the corner. Lock Ned Hanigan secured the lineout but the Brumbies were again penalised for pulling down the maul. The Tahs went straight back to the lineout and this time the Brumbies defended the maul successfully, but the pass went to Hegarty who beat several defenders to score a magnificent solo try. The conversion went over and it was 24-12 at the halfway point as the teams swapped sides.
Waratahs replacement Andrew Kellaway went over next as the Brumbies’ error rate mounted and they started to look flustered. The middle third ended with the score 29-12.
The Waratahs kicked off to start the last third and quickly won a penalty, opting to kick for the corner. They secured the throw and after a couple of phases, replacement scrumhalf Matt Lucas dummied and then crashed over from close range, using his momentum to drive the defender backwards – not something you often see from a scrumhalf and certainly not from one of Lucas’ size! Replacement flyhalf Andrew Deegan converted and the score was blowing out at 36-12. Both sides brought on their extended benches, with the Brumbies’ reserve front row of Sione, Fainga’a and Alexander looking effective at scrum time, while Sevens convert Con Foley looked dangerous in space for the Waratahs.
But the Brumbies’ handling continued to let them down as they failed to secure a deep kick 5m from their own line, which Waratahs centre Irae Simone obligingly scooped up to score. At 41-12 with 15 minutes to go, the Brumbies’ discipline began to lapse as well as Ben Hyne was penalised for a late tackle on halfway, but as Lucas had just kicked the ball the penalty was awarded where it landed, inside the 22. The Tahs went for the corner again and the Brumbies were again penalised for pulling down the maul. In a further sign of the changing times, the Waratahs elected to take the scrum but the Brumbies won a scrum penalty and a lucky escape.
In the last 10 minutes the Brumbies finally started to find their spark and scored the best try of the night with a break down the left wing which was pulled down inside the 22, then quickly shifted it to the right wing to outflank the scrambling defence with ex-Red Tom Banks scoring in the corner. More handling errors followed though, and a Tahs scrum penalty summed up the night for the Canberra boys, as the Tahs again kicked for the corner and a powerful maul saw hooker Tolu Latu cross and the score at 46-22 with 3 minutes to go.
The Brumbies were desperate to have the final say after the siren, but repeated handling errors by both sides saw possession change about five times with neither side willing to call it quits, until the Waratahs managed to put Robinson away down the right wing and he beat the last defender to score his second of the night. Deegan managed to convert and the final score was 53-17 in a very impressive Waratahs performance.
The Waratahs put in a dominant performance without their stars against a strong Brumbies lineup, and the performances of the younger NRC players stepping up to Super level was especially pleasing to see. For the Waratahs, Jake Gordon and Bryce Hegarty both had excellent games, while Jack Dempsey was the pick of the forwards. The Waratahs also looked solid at set-piece time, which is a good sign for the coming season.
The Brumbies were let down by poor handling and poor discipline, and Stephen Larkham will no dobut see a lot to work on, with even their traditional strengths of scrum and maul looking shaky at times. Initial impressions of new flyhalf Hawera were good, as he looked dangerous with ball in hand and should continue to grow in confidence as he settles into the side. Unfortunately, Cubelli’s knee injury did not look good at all, and he will be a massive loss for the Brumbies if he’s out for any length of time. Powell backed up well, supplying quick and accurate ball from the ruck base, but Cubelli looked far more dangerous sniping with ball in hand. Rory Arnold made some damaging runs and Henry Speight looked difficult to contain.
Brumbies fans will be disappointed with the result but of course trials aren’t always indicative of the regular season, especially when played in such difficult conditions. Speaking after the match, Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan said the conditions were like “four seasons in one day – and all of them hot” with extreme heat, wind and even a little rain. As for the Waratahs, Daryl Gibson will no doubt be very happy with the performance of his young side who managed the conditions well and secured a good win.
Waratahs (24) 53
T: Jake Dempsey, Jake Gordon, Reece Robinson (2), Bryce Hegarty, Andrew Kellaway, Matt Lucas, Irae Simone, Tolu Latu
C: Bryce Hegarty (2), Andrew Deegan
Brumbies (12) 17
T: Tomas Cubelli, Josh Mann-Rea, Isaac Thompson
C: Wharenui Hawera