To beat the third placed side at their home is no mean feat, but the truth is that this Blues side is rapidly unraveling and it simply couldn’t take the pressure that this make-do Brumbies side managed to muster.
It wasn’t a scintillating stuff, but the Canberran defence managed snuff out any Blues momentum before it could gather steam. It seems that this steam just had to go somewhere, and ended up exploding between Troy Flavell’s well spaced ears. Having the volatile lock as Captain is a double edged sword and Nucifora is paying the price for it now. It was all Kaplan could do to keep the loco Flavell from getting himself sent off and this lack of discipline rapidly spread throughout the Auckland side.
In the loose and the lineout the Brumbies forwards had a great game. Their pick and drive flowed, milking free kicks at will and their line-out destroyed the Blues’. As usual George Smith found the ability to make turnovers just when they were needed defensively and Mitchell Chapman made a good nuisance of himself at 6. Hoiles was missed at 8.
The bad news was that the Brumbies scrum was a complete shambles. Henderson and Shepherdson were destroyed and Faingaa’s lack of size couldn’t have helped (has the Reds coach Mooney thought this through?). These two didn’t even have a good game in the loose (Henderson deciding he could attempt clearing kicks) – the usual Australian defence. Scrub another two props from Wallaby contention.
The return of Mortlock is of course welcomed, he seems to be able to beat New Zealanders standing still, although spends as much time receiving treatment as he does on his feet. Playford had a solid game, Ashley-Cooper on the other wing made two scintillating 50m runs through the middle in broken play and generally looked dangerous. Gerrard was solid at the back and his kicking from hand impressive.
Tyrone Smith at 12 has real sparkle plus the ability to take 3 defenders with him – more on him in another post. The problem though is 10. You don’t expect anyone to step right into Larkham’s shoes, but Christian Lealiifano has a long, long way to go. Threading passes through 4 runners and into touch during promising attacking opportunities seems to be a habit, and he doesn’t seem to have heard of defending in a line.
So what of the Brumbies run in to the finals? This win over the Blues obviously seriously helped the Waratahs and Force and it also put the ACT side in 9th with 21 points. Not position ‘A’ but an almost perfect run in could get them there. So what would that require?
- Sharks (H)
- Lions (H)
- Stormers (A)
- Bulls (A)
- Force (A)
Not an easy run for this team, missing a front row and 10 is not how you want to face anyone, but especially Saffa teams like the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls. 9th is looking about right.
For the Blues:
Pens: Evans 2
For the Brumbies:
Pens:Mortlock 2, Gerrard
Blues: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Lee, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Nick White, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Ben Atiga, 22 David Smith.
Brumbies: 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Stirling Mortlock (c), 12 Tyrone Smith, 11Peter Playford, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Patrick Phibbs, 8 Julian Salvi, 7 George Smith, 6 Mitchell Chapman, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Alister Campbell, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Salesi Ma’afi, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Jone Tawake, 20 Joshua Holmes, 21 Matt Toomua, 22 Francis Fainifo, 23 Ben Alexander.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Assessor: Alan Riley (New Zealand)