The Highlanders have snatched a thrilling 23-22 win after the siren to defeat the Brumbies and continue their winning streak over the hosts and in doing so, snap the Brumbies ten game winning streak at home.
A Folau Fainga’a hat-trick wasn’t enough for the home side in tough conditions as the Brumbies worked hard in the second half to get back into the game and take a six point lead into the last few minutes before a late converted try to Teariki Ben-Nicholas saw the Highlanders claim an important win to get their season back on track.
There was a bit of disruption to the Brumbies side with the late withdrawals of Darcy Swain and Irae Simone due to illness that gave Cadeyrn Neville and Len Ikitau starting roles.
It was a nervy start for the Brumbies with a couple of poor kicks allowing the Highlanders easy field position in the opening minutes. A smart kick from Mitch Hunt had the Brumbies on the back foot five metres out and from there they worked it in tight in the wet conditions and eventually settled for a penalty goal from Josh Ioane after three minutes.
A couple of penalties in a row allowed the Brumbies to get up the field deep into the Highlanders 22 and after turning down an easy shot at penalty goal, they kicked to the corner and the inevitable rolling maul try to Folau Fainga’a was the end result.
With the wet conditions, the Highlanders were prepared to kick for field position from Hunt or throw up box kicks from Aaron Smith but didn’t always succeed with Tom Banks safe under the high ball at fullback.
The discipline of the visitors was undoing their good work and copped four penalties in a row to earn a warning from referee Nic Berry and have the Brumbies in prime position for their rolling maul and Fainga’a duly obliged for his second try after 30 minutes. Lolesio’s conversion made it 12-3.
But right off the restart the Highlanders hit back with a try to Jona Nareki after he showed great pace and charged down a clearing kick from Noah Lolesio to make it 12-10 after Ioane’s conversion.
The Highlanders short kicking game was what worked well for them by turning the Brumbies backs, in particular Solomone Kata, keeping them in the five-metre channel and struggling to secure their ball. The pressure lead to another Ioane penalty goal to give the Highlanders a slender 13-12 lead at the break.
The second half kicked off with the Highlanders adding another penalty goal to make it a four point margin but then put themselves under real pressure with Sio Tomkinson copping a yellow card for what Nic Berry determined as a ‘shoulder to shoulder’ hit on Tom Banks although replays suggested more like shoulder to face.
The Highlanders came out that period unscathed and looked the better of the sides as Aaron Smith started to take control of the game and putting them deep in the Brumbies half.
But it was the discipline again of the Highlanders that allowed the Brumbies to march down the field as the scrum flexed its muscle for back-to-back penalties. It was that man again Folau who rolled over for his hat-trick try. Ryan Lonergan took over the kicking duties and landed the clutch conversion and a handy three point lead.
The Highlanders had a chance to level almost immediately but Ioane’s attempt was just away to the left with six minutes remaining and from the restart, Josh McKay knocked on the skidding ball to give the Brumbies a scrum that resulted in another penalty that Lonergan converted to give his side some breathing space at 22-16.
But there would be late drama as the Brumbies were attempting to close out the final 90 seconds but got penalised in their own 22.
The Highlanders hammered the Brumbies line as the siren sounded aided by a series of penalties themselves. Murray Douglas copped a yellow card for an early drive defending the line and with the one man advantage from the next play, the Highlanders rumbled towards the line and Teariki Ben-Nicholas broke Brumbies fans hearts with a try near to the posts that allowed Ioane a simple conversion for a gutsy 23-22 win.
The Game Changer
The last twenty minutes. The Brumbies were behind and looking rattled before a series of subs and a strong scrum got them back in front before a lack of composure in trying to see out the game allowed the Highlanders a chance of snatching victory, and they obliged.
The G&GR MOTM
Aaron Smith – The part time ref was heard all over the place and took control of the match in the second half before being subbed. Honourable mention to Folau Fainga’a for the hat-trick and his fifty try of the season to keep his side in the game.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Fainga’a 3
Conversions: Lolesio, Lonergan
Tries: Nareki, Ben-Nicholas
Conversions: Ioane 2
Penalties: Ioane 3
44 mins – Tomkinson (Highlanders) – Yellow
80 mins – Douglas (Brumbies) – Yellow