In beautiful Invercargill rugby weather the Brumbies and Highlanders faced off both looking to get their seasons back on track. The Brumbies made a late change, with Blake Enever being replaced by Lausii Taliauli on the bench. It wasn’t a good start to the night for the Brumbies when their bus broke down on the way to the match and the team had to arrive in taxi’s.
The night didn’t get much better for the Brumbies.
With both teams coming off losses it was the Brumbies who made a positive start to the match. They showed their attacking intent early with the majority of the possession in the first 10 minutes but after wave after wave they were forced back, losing territory with the strong defence of the Highlanders forcing an error and the Brumbies coming away empty handed.
At the 10 minute mark Jack Wilson was yellow carded for a high tackle on Robbie Coleman. Toomua kicked for touch and the Brumbies received a penalty from the resulting lineout. Again Toomua kicked for the line, putting it into touch five metres out. Sam Carter was penalised during the lineout for obstruction, allowing the Highlanders to send the ball down field.
The first score of the match came at 13 minutes, when Liam Squire gave away a penalty for no arms in the tackle. Christian Lealiifano slotted the shot, 3-0 Brumbies.
The Brumbies kept on with their attack, drawing penalties from the Highlanders and kicking to touch and setting up for attacking lines out. Again Sam Carter was penalised as they formed the maul for obstruction.
At the 20 minute mark another attacking chance went begging when Sam Carter was again called for obstruction at the lineout. This was the third time Carter had been penalised for the same offence.
Patrick Osborne came close to scoring after easily breaking through the Brumbies defence. It was only a last ditch effort from Tomas Cubelli to stop the try, putting Osborne into touch.
Soon after, Osborne again came close to the try line, after Aidan Toua stepped the wrong way in defence giving Osborne a clear run towards the line, but again the Highlanders were let down by handling errors and turned the ball over.
In the 37th minute Lima Sopoaga scored the opening try of the match after easily sliding between Nigel Ah Wong and Tom Staniforth. He converted his own try to make the half time score 7-3.
Five minutes into the half a good set piece from a 5m scrum by the Highlanders led to Ben Smith going over the try line after Malakai Fekitoa broke through the Brumbies defence. Sopoaga converted the try, taking the score to 14-3.
Five minutes later the Brumbies hit back with Josh Mann Rae scoring off the back of a rolling maul from an attacking line out. Lealiifano converted cutting the lead back to 4, with the score at 14-10.
Penalties and errors began creeping into the Brumbies game, giving the Highlanders a slight advantage. James Dargaville was called for obstruction while chasing a defensive kick, resulting in Sopoaga successfully taking the penalty with the score moving to 17-10.
The Brumbies turned down a number of attempts at goal, preferring to go to the sideline and try their luck with the maul. But the defence of the Highlanders was immense, holding out repeated attacks from the Brumbies forwards. Ultimately it was errors from the backs which led to the ball being turned over, the Brumbies again being unable to convert their pressure in attack into points.
The Brumbies started making defensive errors resulting in successful penalty shots to Sopoaga in the 68th and 72nd minutes taking the score out to 23-10, which is how the score would stay.
It was a disappointing display from the Brumbies. Despite having the majority of possession and most other stats, they were unable to convert attack into points. Continually let down with poor passes and handling they gave the ball back to the Highlanders far too easily.
The Highlanders defence was very strong, holding out the Brumbies close to the line on a number of occasions. They were the better team on the night, outplaying the Brumbies with better execution.
The Game Changer
The try to Ben Smith not long after half time was the beginning of the end for the Brumbies. After putting so much pressure on the Highlanders defence, only to walk away empty handed and then have a try scored quickly and relatively easily against them, it put the Brumbies on the back foot.
The G&GR MOTM
In a pretty even team effort Ben Smith gets the nod. He played a part in most of the Highlanders scores and was solid in defence. Honourable mention goes to Tom Staniforth from the Brumbies who threw himself into everything in both attack and defence.
Tom Staniforth made a good impression, carrying the ball into the defence with aggression and looks to be one to watch out for, outplaying locking partner Sam Carter. While David Pocock appeared to have a quiet match he made a number of runs and was solid in defence..
Score & Scorers
Tries: L. Sopoaga (39′) Ben Smith(45′)
Conversions: L. Sopoaga 2/2
Penalties: L Sopoaga 3/4
Tries: J Mann Rae (50’)
Conversions: C. Lealiifano 1/1
Penalties: C. Lealiifano 1/1
CARDS & CITINGS
Yellow Card – Jack Wilson (Highlanders)