The Brumbies showcased a masterclass in depth and defence, winning 0-24 against the Western Force in Sydney last night. The match marks the first time since 2007 that the Force have been held scoreless in a game.
Going into the match, the Force were hopeful of making history, having not tasted victory over the men from the capital since 2013, a losing streak longer than against any other Australian opposition. They had been showing some outstanding form despite two close losses to the Waratahs and Reds, and some fans had felt that an upset was on hand, given the Brumbies’ recent loss of Noah Lolesio to injury.
The Brumbies, meanwhile, are still to drop a game in the competition, winning at the death against the Waratahs last week, in addition to a strong performance against the Rebels in week one. With Lolesio out for the remainder of the season, the Brumbies were turning to Bayley Kuenzle to fill the void at ten. Despite this being his first run on cap, Kuenzle (or BK, as named by Dan McKellar), had showed a lot of potential in guiding the Brumbies to victory last week, on top of actually challenging Lolesio for the run-on playmaker role during the NRC last year, and during pre-season.
Either way, the prospect of an exciting clash beckoned at Leichhardt Oval.
If the Force were hopeful of starting with a bang against their more fancied opponents, they unfortunately became aware of the challenge in front of them in the second minute of the game. Off the back of a great scrum, Joe Powell combined with Tevita Kuridrani and Rob Valetini to put Tom Wright in space, break right through the Force’s defence to score. BK however failed to make the conversion, but the Brumbies were up, 0-5.
This sudden jolt seemed to wake the Force, winning the ball back quickly and pressing the Brumbies danger zone, however the Brumbies pressure at the ruck saw them concede a critical turnover, with the short side of the field open in space. Samu combined with Wright again, and despite some desperate cover defence, the Brumbies numbers were too strong and Irae Simone scored in the exact same spot Wright had three minutes before. BK converted and suddenly, only five minutes in, and the Force were down 0-12.
If the Force didn’t had any indication of what they were up against, they certainly did now. The first five minutes had seen them try to turn to their attacking weapons and outrun the Brumbies, however not only had they been shut down effectively, they had been shown up on cover defence and support play. After this second try however, it was clear they needed to change strategy, and that they did.
The Force decided to slow the game right down and turned to their forwards, who began to show some early dominance over the Brumbies scrum. The strategy proved effective, as the Brumbies now found themselves defending against a more considered attack. The arm-wrestle had begun.
The Force almost looked to grab a try back when Marcel Brache found himself breaching the Brumbies defence in the 22nd minute. However, the Brums were up to the task and were able to shut down the play. The Force, by this stage were starting to show dominance in both territory and possession. However, with every attacking play, they could not breach the Brumbies defence time, after time, AFTER TIME. The Brumbies also looked to take advantage, when they got the ball, but by this stage the Force’s famous blue wall had now woken up, with Henry Stowers making a nuisance of himself in the game.
Eventually, the armwrestle led to the score being unchanged at halftime, with the Brumbies two tries separating the teams in what had been an entertaining half of rugby.
Halftime: Western Force 0 – 12 Brumbies
It was clear whoever scored first in the second half was going to be critical. Off the back of an excellent bit of play from Irae Simone, much like the start of the first half, the Force’s defence was caught napping on the short side in the 42nd minute, with Will Miller taking advantage of Bryan Ralyston having to come off his wing to beat the cover defence and score. BK was able to convert from out wide, and the Force found themselves down 0-19.
It turned out to be critical moment in the game, as the rain started to come down. The match devolved, once again, into the arm wrestle, with neither side able to take advantage and convert points. The only difference between the sides at this point had been the Brumbies being able to take advantage at those critical moments.
As the game hit the 60th minute, the Brumbies decided to empty their reserve bench and push hard. Five minutes later, the Force did the same. But that five minutes proved the difference.
The reserves of the Brumbies got to work, and found themselves inside the Force’s twenty two at the 65th minute with a lineout in their favour. The Force reserves came on to find themselves on the backfoot immediately, having to face up against the Brumbies now infamous rolling maul. The result went as expected, and Connal McInerney scored the try which put a bow on the bonus point victory.
The Force kept fighting until the end, and were able to stop several more attacking plays, but eventually the whistle was blown and the damage was done.
Fulltime: Western Force 0 – 24 Brumbies
To put it simply, it was a disappointing night for the Force. Looking to create history with their first win against the Brumbies in seven years, they unfortunately made the wrong type of history in that were held scoreless for the first time since 2007, when they lost 53-0 against the Crusaders in Christchurch. However, unlike that drubbing thirteen years ago, this scoreline REALLY didn’t reflect how hard they fought.
The only thing separating them from the Brumbies was that they started both halves very slowly, and that they struggled to execute at key moments in the game. That is something this team is definitely capable of, especially when you consider they did the exact same thing to many of these Brumbies players when they were in Canberra Vikings colours in the NRC Grand Final last year. They will host the Rebels next week, as they continue to search for that first win. Frankly, I anticipate we won’t have to wait long, as their dogged determination in every single game is something to be admired.
Staying on the topic of the NRC with the Brumbies, coach Dan McKellar admitted post this game to rugby.com.au that in regards to BK at flyhalf, “during the week, NRC, [and] pre-season it was touch and go between Noah and BK and Reesjan (Pasitoa), and Noah got first opportunity and took it and BK got an opportunity tonight and took it. It’s pleasing that we’re getting that development right.”
While the talent definitely stepped up, the Brumbies also beat this Force in several more ways: they trusted the development talent they had to perform and deliver a result, and they also had looked like they’d done their homework on the Force; shutting down their attacking prowess through gritty defence, holding their strong set piece at bay and taking advantage of defensive holes to deliver results. It was a smart, clinical display of well-structured rugby, but also showed the Brumbies weren’t taking this game for granted at all.
The result sees the Brumbies claim first place on the ladder. They certainly will have a fight on their hands when they host the Reds, who currently sit in second, next week in Canberra.
The Game Changer
Will Miller’s try at the start of the second half. Until that point the Force had been gritty and determined to stay in the fight, but this was the try that pushed the result beyond any doubt.
The GAGR MOTM
While Bayley Kuenzle had a great night at ten for the Brumbies, shoutout must also go to Pete Samu in the forwards for being instrumental in setting up tries and adding some valuable grunt in the defence.
Bryan Ralston continues to show great composure for the Force, and the combination of Nick Frisby and Jonno Lance is improving every single week as well. For the Brums, Irae Simone again stands out yet again for his composure and kicking game, which proved critical for the final try of the match.
Western Force 0
Tries: Wright, Simone, Miller, McInerney
Cons: Kuenzle 2/4