The Brumbies and Reds kicked off their 2020 campaigns in 39 degree heat but it was the Brumbies who came out on top with a tough 27-24 win in Canberra.
It was certainly a game of two halves with momentum swings going both ways as the Brumbies took the early advantage before the Reds got back into the game with 17 unanswered points to lead by ten at the break.
But the second half was where it was won for the Brumbies with three tries to Tom Wright, Folau Fainga’a and Tom Banks with a late penalty to Noah Lolesio enough for a close win despite a late Harry Wilson try for the Reds.
The Brumbies started off the match with some physicality that seemed to catch the Reds on the back foot and they were not helped by some errant passes out the back to put Isaac Lucas under pressure.
That physicality saw the Brumbies with back to back penalties in good field position and at the second go from close range, they had the opening try after just four minutes to centre Irae Simone.
The Reds were lucky not to go further behind after Tom Wright was penalised for not releasing the ball and having another go at the tryline after earlier making a nice break and linking up with Tevita Kuridrani down the left wing.
New captain Liam Wright earnt a crucial penalty ten metres out from his own line after getting over the ball on a Solomone Kata run, who had looked handy with his early touches and this seemed to jolt the Reds into action.
They slowly got back into the game with Jordan Petaia starting to get his hands on the ball and running good lines with James O’Connor getting in to first receiver and their scrum was getting the upper hand on their opponents.
The Brumbies conceded a series of penalties in their own end and it was former Brumby Henry Speight who got the Reds on the board after 18 minutes with a move that looked very familiar to Brumbies fans and Bryce Hegarty’s conversion levelled the scores.
It was again the Reds set piece that got on top of the Brumbies and it gave Hegarty a simple shot at penalty goal and a 10-7 lead after 25 minutes
The Reds tactics at lineout were causing problems for the Brumbies as they contested very well to leave the Brumbies with disrupted ball and not allow them to get any rhythm from first phase.
It was their forwards that got them further in front just before the break after 15 phases in tight, the backs got in on the action and Hegarty extended their lead to 17-7 after converting his own try.
The Brumbies looked to have the yips early in the second half, like the Reds in the opening ten but a timely counter ruck from Solomone Kata was just what they needed and after spreading the ball wide, Tom Wright found his way through contact and flirted with the side line to score in the left corner and reduce the Reds lead to five points.
That margin was reduced just before the 60-minute mark as the Reds gave away a penalty in their own half and the Brumbies went to what they know best with a rolling maul off the lineout with Folau Fainga’a scoring at the back.
The Reds did well to halt the Brumbies momentum with some key turnovers but with just over ten minutes remaining Tom Banks shredded his way through the Reds defence to finish off a try he started after pressuring Isaac Lucas into a poor clearance to give the Brumbies good field position.
Noah Lolesio kicked a penalty goal to make the lead 10 but the Reds hit back with a converted try to debutant Harry Wilson with four minutes to go to ensure a close finish but a knock on from Moses Sorovi after the bell ended any chance of snatching a late winner.
Brumbies second half – The Brumbies trailed by 10 points at half time but came out firing with three tries and a late penalty and hold on for the win.
The G&GR MOTM
Even though he came out on the losing team, Liam Wright gets the nod in a blanket finish. He didn’t look out of place with the captaincy and won his side a number of crucial turnovers in key spots to get his side out of trouble. Honourable mention to Tom Banks for his try that got the Brumbies the lead and didn’t look troubled at the back.
With an Aussie derby there was plenty to see with the front row matchup a real battle with the Brumbies Wallabies contingent of Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa and James Slipper not having it their own way against a pack lead by Taniela Tupou.
You can see why Liam Wright has been marked as a long term Wallaby in the back row with a solid game and Harry Wilson showed what he can do and will only get better with experience.
The midfield combination of James O’Connor and Jordan Petaia will only get better with more game time under their belt with Petaia up against Tevita Kuridrani who was solid without being spectacular.
Tom Banks put his World Cup squad omission behind him with a nice try that should give new coach Dave Rennie something to think about at fullback.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Simone, Wright, Fainga’a, Banks
Conversions: Lolesio 2
Tries: Speight, Hegarty, Wilson
Conversions: Hegarty 3