Brumbies put to the sword by the Highlanders - Green and Gold Rugby
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Brumbies put to the sword by the Highlanders

Brumbies put to the sword by the Highlanders

The Brumbies have gone down to the Highlanders 43-17 in Dunedin tonight. The game was there for the taking at 12-10 at the break before a Waisake Naholo intercept try at the 60 minute mark with the Brumbies deep on attack against 14 men changed the game. There were three more Highlanders tries after that to blow out the final score.

The Match

With the majority of the possession in the early stages, it took the Highlanders seven minutes to score the opening points. It took some patient build up from the home side and multiple phases before Lima Sopoaga rolled his way over the tryline.

The Highlanders had an obvious plan to avoid the rushing Brumbies defence and used short kicks in behind the line to turn them around.

The Brumbies forwards ball running plan that had been starting to work well in recent weeks, started to click with Sio and Fainga’a linking up in midfield that led to a Wharenui Hawera penalty goal to make it 5-3.

David Pocock was only into his third match in 2018 but again his presence around the ruck was huge but even he couldn’t stop Ben Smith as he sliced through a poor defensive read for the Highlanders second try.

The Brumbies then worked the wide channels to get down field and Pocock looked to have scored the first Brumbies try but a look from the TMO ruled it out. They did have penalty advantage and two scrums later, Isi Naisarani barged his way over off the back and Hawera’s conversion made it 12-10.

The Highlanders had one last chance to add more points before the break, but could not as Rory Arnold monstered one maul and the scrum, that had been fairly solid to this point, earned a relieving penalty.

Embed from Getty Images

The home side had the first points in the second half from a Sopoaga penalty from 45 metres that came on the back of a break from deep inside their own half.

Lima Sopoaga copped a yellow card for a lifting tackle on Tom Banks but the Brumbies couldn’t punish them as Kuridrani dropped the ball in the shadows of the posts to let the Highlanders off the hook as handling errors were starting to creep into their game.

With the Brumbies forwards doing the hard yards and edging forward, Waisake Naholo undid all their hard work as he snuck in and intercepted a long pass from Hawera that probably wasn’t required and ran 80 metres untouched to make it 22-10.

The floodgates then opened for the Highlanders with Ben Smith scoring his second before Shannon Frizell finished what he started to blow the game out.

There was a late converted try to Joe Powell to reduce the margin but it was too little, too late as the Highlanders hit back with their sixth try to replacement Fletcher Smith well after the 80 minutes to run out 43-17 winners.

The Game Changer

The Naholo try. With a try for the Brumbies looming, he snuck in to make the margin 12 and then it was shut the gate from there.


Ben Smith. 2 tries topped off a good night for the fullback.

Wallaby Watch

Tevita Kuridrani has had a very slow start to 2018 and it continued through this game and needs to lift in 2018 before the Irish series. David Pocock doesn’t look to have missed a beat and will be back in Gold in June with another big game and some important ruck burglaries.

The Details

Score & Scorers

Tries: Naisarani, Powell
Conversions: Hawera 2
Penalties: Hawera
Tries: B Smith 2, Sopoaga, Naholo, Frizell, F Smith
Conversions: Sopoaga 4, B Smith
Penalties: Sopoaga


52 mins – Sopoaga (Highlanders) – Yellow

  • Dean

    Australian Rugby………. :(

  • Huw Tindall

    We keep saying it…score didn’t reflect the game. Brumbies weren’t 26 points worse than the Highlanders. Highlanders played classic kiwi rugby making the most of turnovers and counter attack opportunities. Their scrum was going to pieces in the first half though and the Bumbies piggies were having a pretty good day. I feel they tried too hard to get the ball wide. They were making good metres closer in and should have kept that up.

    • The trouble is, although you keep saying “they weren’t 26 points worse” the score lines to disprove that keep racking up.

      It’s not really groundbreaking to suggest that the Kiwi sides, from the provincial level upwards, and at school level really, play to a pretty standard style so everyone understands their role. This helps when a player swaps position because of injuries or blooding a new player or whatever – the 12 moved out to 13, or in to 10 (we’ve seen both over the last 15 years or so) understands the role, and is picked to move that way because they can fulfil it. But it also means when there’s a breakdown from the opposition, every player in Black (or whatever they’re wearing) understands how to respond, and does so. Ok, Naholo didn’t need any help on the intercept, but the support was there.

      Match stats, and the eyeballs of a lot of analysts (including me I have to say) look at possession, territory, rucks and so on and think “Team X did well, they should have scored more points” but the truth of the matter is that if you are playing a side that are comfortable defending for long periods, knowing you’re not going to seriously threaten their try line often (and 2 tries at any level is not threatening it often) and knowing that they can force mistakes and convert a high proportion of those mistakes into points, usually into tries so they score in 5’s and 7’s while you might score in 3’s then the old-school analysts will look at it and think “they should be closer on the scoreboard.” If it was once or twice, I’d agree.

      However, it’s so routine over the last few years that I try not to analyse a match that way. A simple stat to judge by eye – how often do they clearly gain metres (cross the gain line that is) on successive phases, or score in a phase. I don’t do it dramatically, and I’m not sure, I don’t get a pause button and a ruler across the screen, I’ve got to be clear by eye. My eyeball assessment is that the NZ teams seem to stop the other nations doing it as often as they do against any other defence, and that Kiwi teams do it more often than any other sides do. The “score in a phase” is there so that if you score from first phase ball, or an interception or whatever, that counts as a + in the book – none of those things are flukes and should be pluses. I didn’t see this game unfortunately, we have visitors, but I’ll guess that the Brumbies had the ball a lot and “looked impressive” but there were quite a lot of phases where they went sideways more than forwards, and few times they went forwards and forwards again.

      No one does it all the time, but Kiwi sides seem to do it a lot more, except against the B&I Lions, who set out to stop it. The really question is, can any individual nation muster that intensity of defence for 80 minutes to beat the All Blacks?

      Sorry, I’m not trying to pick on you – but the score always reflects the game. I don’t like Brian Moore, but one of oft-repeated his comments is “no one deserves to win, the score shows the side that played better, that scored more points, which is what it’s all about.” It took me a while to extend that because they way I learned to watch rugby said possession and territory ruled the roost – but if the score doesn’t reflect that, then they’re not good measures any more.

      • Ed

        Great post EP.

        I tweeted this last night:
        “That was the 50th loss to a NZ SR side since the start of 2016. AUS sides have had 12 BP losses and NZ teams have had 28 BP wins in that period. Over half of our losses have been floggings.”

        Our average losing margin is around 21 points in that period. Your point on defensive intensity against NZ sides rings true. In those 50 losses, our sides have conceded at least 40 points in 23 matches while scoring at least 30 points in three of those games.

        Those who watched rugby under Macqueen and Jones would be partial to the possesion, territory and rucks etc stats, and feel our sides should do better. BUT just hitting the ball up, often getting hit behind the gainline means nothing.

        Stephen Larkham said last year we were about a decade behind NZ in using turnover ball as a method in attack. Some believe that is not a skill but it requires knowing where to be near the ball runner, being ready in anticipation for a break etc. How often do we see an Australian make a break and there is no-one near them or the ball holder doesn’t run near his support?

      • John Tynan

        An example of your point from last night. I think Reds ad-line was 55%, Tahs was 65% or better, and it was the difference in the game.

        • Ad-line doesn’t always tell the story (although it’s not a bad indicator), it’s getting successive phases crossing the gain line that seems to make more difference. I watched Saracens v Bath today, for example, and Bath by the old standards seemed to be well in the game, but got thumped on the score line.

          In fairness, Bath played overall better than the scoreline suggests, it was silly individual errors that cost them dear, but they had a lot of single phases going forward, then stopping, then going forward again. Saracens on the other hand scored ruthlessly from turnovers and tended to string two, three, four or more phases of clearly going forwards together time after time.

          But no one reports the repeated phases, so ad line success is a good stand-in when you’re reading the match report.

      • Richard Patterson

        A great post. Thank you.

    • idiot savant

      Good point. I thought that they went wide too much as well. They were getting on top in close and didnt need to go the flanks all the time.

  • onlinesideline

    Waratahs only ones that may get a win …. season is turning south pretty quick.
    You have to wonder if any future bagging of Cheika is justified.
    Player for player they are just better than us at Suoer level so why would national side be any better ?
    They have so many flyers in all shapes and sizes.
    Do these kiwis have some kind of secret IVF system going on or something.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Good points mate but I think it’s compounded by some strange selections and I think that is where the bagging is justified. Plus if you have players of different skills then you need to adjust your tactics to account for them. I don’t think the difference is that much, I think the ABs tactics and selections suit their players more than the Wallabies suit their players

      • onlinesideline

        So you think it comes down to selections / position selections and incorrect tactics for wallabies considering who is in the team but (subject change ) how come our super sides are getting spanked ?

        If you agree that at super rugby there are no weird Cheika isms re selections and that tactics are pretty good then it must come down to cattle difference. There seems to me to be 4-5 players in each kiwi side at least that are a class above in terms of power, size, speed and explosiveness and whole team Rugby IQ.

        Its a long convo, Im just havin a whinge.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Fair enough mate, and that’s what this site is for. I think that apart from 10 and 13 you do have good players but it is about picking the right ones and playing the game plan that suits them.

        • idiot savant

          I agree they have better players in every position but thats because rugby is the number one football code (religion) in the Shaky Isles and attracts all of their best athletes. Rugby is number 4 in Australia. If Rugby had had first choice of the best athletes from AFL and League, no one would ever had heard of the All Blacks.

        • onlinesideline

          We all think that, but in truth, Im not so sure. It would be closer for sure but the ABs would rise but yeah we would be better.

          BTW – what happned to that touted hybrid match between League and Union ?

        • Thomas Murray

          Never been to NZ?We would be even more dominate if we had all our best players.

        • Richard Patterson

          I sense what is continuing to emerge as a point of differentiation between NZ and AUS is the quality of coaching young players are receiving at the important age-group levels. It seems increasingly apparent that NZ players enter Super Rugby with a deeper array of both core and discretionary skills. That is because those skills have been coached into them in school systems and then really developed further in organised academy programs from ages 15-21. Age group rugby players in NZ know very well that Skills A to F are absolute pre-requisites for a career as a professional rugby player. They are not “nice to have”. It is not a case of 60% will do. It is certainly not a case of “I’ll just let my physical ability do my talking for me. I don’t need to really understand game plans, learn how to play situational rugby or be innovative and skilful when the situation in a game requires me to be innovative and skilful”. Those players are the one’s who most often fail to progress from “promising player” to “professional player”. The same one’s who get spat out the back because there’s a group of players more desperate to make playing (and coaching) rugby their profession.

          It is well documented that 3 of Australia’s 4 Super Rugby coaches are not Australians who have progressed through RA coaching systems. What does that illustrate about the quality of coaching at the age group level in Australia? Who is coaching the coaches to be better coaches of young rugby players? Across the 3 games yesterday involving the 4 Australian sides we saw a consistent failure to execute under pressure or cope with a superior speed of play (David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Kurtley Beale being notable exceptions). Some of that is strength & conditioning. Most of it a fundamental failure at the age-group level to teach skills and execution in confined space, with reduced time and at a heightened speed. It’s why Australian sides can stay in contests against better sides for 30-40 minutes, but cannot maintain it for 80 minutes. It’s why a marquee game at an iconic venue in Sydney last night between NSW and Queensland was a tough watch and an underwhelming exhibition of professional rugby.

        • onlinesideline

          Spot on Richard. Can I ask you something and Im not for one second doubting the authenticity of your sources / opinion but just out of curiousity, have you had actual first had experience seeing these skills being taught. Are you a kiwi or do you have kiwi mates that you have talked to about these exact skills / issues.

          “skills and execution in confined space, with reduced time and at a heightened speed” thats it in a nutshell.

        • Richard Patterson

          I have friends in low places my friend…

          I am close with people who have coached at Super Rugby level in New Zealand. I am therefore familiar with developmental systems and player academy programs across each of the 5 NZ franchises.
          I know “Heads of Rugby Programs” at leading NZ secondary schools and learnt what systems they are running for not just the flagship 1st XV squad – but all players starting at aged 14. It’s not only skills coaching, but teaching situational rugby and how players (whether 1 or 15) are to think their way around a rugby field.
          I have attended coaching clinics and seen the drills and coaching techniques players are exposed to from a young age.
          I am working with a young 17 year old hooker who is aspiring to be a professional. Gets up at 4.30am every morning for gym work, reviews detailed individual programs based on “work on’s” and positional coaching that includes video work and assignments. He is busting his ass – but knows he’s up against a bunch of guys with the same dreams and goals. He’s 50/50 on getting a professional contract.

        • onlinesideline

          Thats really interesting. As an everyday rugby spectator its really hard to gauge exactly how sophisticated the content is, that players are taught, from schools right through to Super. This may be an assumptiion that is totally wrong but with the 2 countries being so close to each other and coaches and players jumping from NZ to OZ and vice versa for short stints or just changing countries to live, surely what programmes (content) you described above is not kept within kiwi borders, so to speak. Surely aussie coaches know alot of the content, knowledge base, skills focus etc etc – it cant be THAT secretive. So whats then going on with aussie coaches. Are we aware of what the kiwis do but ignore what they focus on and just havent clicked as to what needs to be drummed into players from an early age because our culture / opinions differ as to whats important ? I REALLY wonder sometimes just what is going down at aussie training at schools. I would never make the call that their isnt bucketloads of passion among aussie coaches but I do suspect that the aussie propensity for running rugby still dominates the pysche of both players and coaches, maybe to our detriment. Im not saying its not in the kiwi blood either, they are proving to be superior to us in this now and have for years, but to them it seems to augment what they do well already whereas for us its our go to part of the game, even though we now are not that good at it. Im just throwing possible things out there. Its very hard to know what goes down but in my opinion we are not close, whatsoever. The kiwis I hate to say are a pleasure to watch, especially their forwards in loose play, they just get it.

        • Richard Patterson

          Haha – you ask a lot of very relevant questions that should be put to RA, the leading state RU’s and the professional franchises. I feel certain that an opening enquiry about how many NSW RU personnel are regularly making a trek from Mosman or Vaucluse to west of Parramatta Road would get some awkward looks.

          Nothing that NZ Rugby does is labelled “Classified”. Successes that have been clocked up by the different teams from the marquee All Blacks through to the Under 20’s, the Super Rugby sides and Women’s team is only fuelling the desire for more success. The bar keeps getting raised for performance, standards and expectations. It’s helped of course that Rugby is the only game in town in NZ and therefore receives a disproportionate amount of attention, funding. NZ Rugby though is not stupid. They know that a competitive Australian scene is good for business. NZ Rugby are also wise to know that meddling in how the game should be run in Australia is not clever so there is a “keep our side of the street clean” mentality here that is unlikely to change.

          One thing I would encourage as many Australian schoolboy sides to do would be embark on a 1 week 2-3 match tour of New Zealand. Get exchange programs going with NZ schools and have organised games and training sessions together. Learn where the gaps are in skills and execution and embark on strategies to close them. I would get Australian age-group coaches attending NZ Rugby coaching clinics linking with coaching professionals here. Unlike England, there are no vast budgets here to be in awe of. The greatest strength is IP – NZ Rugby know it.

          Of course one last point on all this though is the clear and obvious dichotomy between what is happening with Auckland Rugby (read the Blues) and the rest of New Zealand. This year across the 5 NZ franchises there 61 Super Rugby players who emerged out of the Auckland system – yet the Blues remain without question the weakest of the 5 NZ sides. Bottom line is there is still much work to be done!

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          I remember a Marist brother teaching me to kick with both feet when I was 11. And punished with laps around the field until I got it right too

        • Richard Patterson

          Haha. I remember a Marist Brother teaching us to spiral pass out of both hands and not letting practice finish until we could all do it!! Forwards and backs!

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Big decisions coming up for Cheika. Pocock is so much better at 7 than Hooper will ever be and with “The Pooper” being such a failure it’s going to take some hard calls I think. I liked the look of Lucas at 9 his distribution was good and he’s got a pretty good kick on him plus he tackles well. Good to see Arnold play so well but yeah Kuridrani just isn’t stepping up. As you say little things but when you see the ground the Highlanders backs made almost every time the ball went wide, it’s more than just that.

    • onlinesideline

      I wouldnt have TK nor Kerevi in Wallabies (dont ask me who)
      Kerevi needs to calm the fudge down. He cant make a break everytime.Needs to pick his moments or take it to ground FFS…too many hail marys. But I think ABs will run rings around him, way too slow in my book.
      TK – form – 13 is a real problem coming into 2019 we are missing a world class 13

      • idiot savant

        Id be surprised if Cheika didn’t start with Beale and TK as his centre pairing. TK has another 6 weeks to find some form and the job will be his. Kerevi needs to be sent back to club rugby to learn how to tackle.

    • idiot savant

      The Pooper is a certainty. Cheika will be encouraged by how well the Mipper is working for the Tahs. And Hooper was brilliant at 7 for the Tahs against the Reds. And yes Arnold has had 2 big games in a row now.

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        Ok and I think you’re right because Cheika sees backing down and changing his mind as some sort of weakness. But will the Pooper work? I’ve always seen it as a very unbalanced loose forward mix and if he does pick it who do you think will be 8

  • onlinesideline

    what happened to the “4 aussie teams will be more competitive theory”
    I wont lie, I miss that 5 th aussie team match. The comp now feels as though there is a 5th time bye every week, strange to put it, but just not quite enof rugga

  • Wallabrumby

    Dejavu for mine. Typical Aus Vs NZ match, game on a wire and NZ teams run away with it at the end. Brumbies were looking good and composed and in attack and that intercept did turn it around. The other tries all had a bit of luck to them, but typical NZ fashion they capitalise with such good support play and awareness.

    Powell added a lot of spark from the bench I think, would like to see him starting and Lucus as the “finisher”. Lucus He seems to get wrapped up a lot around the ruck and a few forced turnovers in that field, he has a good snipping running game and think he is better suited towards end of the match. Powell seems a lot safer for me in the early stages.

    Forwards looking very strong, backs just dont seem to be finding gaps. But that could be Highlanders defence. Have not seen Banks make a break this season to show his heels. Structures / support play not quite there yet. TK has been disappointing so far in attack.

    I think at this stage Tahs look the strongest, but brumbies (results aside) looking more solid than the rebels for 2nd in the conference. Without been too one eyed! A lot of work to be done though

  • Fatflanker

    Brumbies didn’t play that badly but so slow to clear from the breakdown – the bloody ball just seems to sit there while the opposition closes the gaps.

  • Dally M

    Any word on whether there is a citing for the neck roll or will SANZAAR be it’s usual inconsistent judicial self.

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