Highlanders snatch late, late win over the Brumbies - Green and Gold Rugby
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Highlanders snatch late, late win over the Brumbies

Highlanders snatch late, late win over the Brumbies

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.

The Match

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.


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.

The Details

Score & Scorers

Tries: Fainga’a 3
Conversions: Lolesio, Lonergan
Penalty: Lonergan
Tries: Nareki, Ben-Nicholas
Conversions: Ioane 2
Penalties: Ioane 3


44 mins – Tomkinson (Highlanders) – Yellow
80 mins – Douglas (Brumbies) – Yellow

  • Steve

    Thanks for the writeup Steve.

    I think what the Highlanders did really well was target the inexperienced players, particularly Lolesio, and it gained them a lot of points. Several times the Highlanders hit back immediately after Brumby scores off errors.

    Simone would have helped a lot in this game, having two rookies at 10/12 was exploited well and probably made the difference. Irae has been able to take a lot of heat off Lolesio previously.

    Poor decision-making at the death, as 7As said if you choose to run down 90 sec 5m off your own line, you are really the only team being policed and more often than not it won’t end well.

    Still, they move on from here.

  • Tim

    This game sums up Australian Rugby. Time and time again they had great opportunities yet didn’t take advantage of them. Its sad that somehow i knew 90 seconds before the hooter we are up by 6 that we wouldn’t hold on. 6 seconds until the siren i hear the whistle im excited thinking yes we get a clearing kick this is the game. Nek minute 3 more pens 83 minutes in poor read in defense score under the posts. At least they do get a point for trying.

  • idiot savant

    How many times have I seen this game?

    A kiwi side with possibly less talent beats an Australian side through relentless intensity at all facets of the game. I would call the Nareki charge down try an absolute fluke if it hadn’t happened so often. But it wasn’t just that. the Highlanders contested with all their might at every tackle all game. And that wins close matches.

    Congratulations to the Highlanders coaches. They knew that relentlessness would get it done. It wouldn’t have changed the result if Tomkinson had been red carded, as they would have doubled down on relentless contesting. But if that tackle had been made by an Australian with a kiwi ref, they would have been red carded. Just ask Higginbotham. He got a red card and 5 weeks for a tackle with much less violent intent. But Australian refs simply dont have the balls to do that.

    • The Nareki charge down kind of is a fluke, but it’s the example of why you chase and chase hard – and it’s WAY too regularly a fast, young Kiwi winger doing it to an Aussie side so you have to think there’s a system failure in there too.

      I don’t think the Highlanders would have had any grounds for complaint if it was a RC. I’m sure straight away they’d have said “seems harsh” but the TMO said from one angle it’s blurry (seemed ok to me) and from the other it wasn’t clear the shoulder hit the head (which, in fairness it wasn’t) so I think the decision was right with what the TMO looked at. I think he should have looked at the other angle too because it looked clear enough to me and like a shoulder to the head… RC.

      And while I still think Lolesio is the pick of the bunch over 3 weeks, this is why the G&G 10 jersey is still wide open for me at this point. Bad conditions and a team that harasses him… he looks inexperienced. By 2023 he will probably be the solid choice, unless someone else sticks their hand up, but for this year, coming on as a replacement behind Toomua *might* be a better way to develop him as an international 10 – for him and the Wallabies. Not saying that’s right, just saying it’s a possibility to be considered at his point in time.

      • idiot savant

        It would be sensible to blood the new Wallaby 10 (whoever it is) behind a more experienced player for the first season. Toomua at last got some quick ball from his pack and showed what he can do. Given his age, his job could well be to mentor the next generation.

        Theres a long way to go before the candidates are chosen. I like Lolesio’s confidence combined with a desire to distribute. Thats a really good sign. Harrison understandably is still getting his head around the pace of the game. The guy who really put his hand up was for half back – Ryan Louwrens. If he keeps that up all season he will be a show for the bench spot behind White. I thought the wet exposed both Powell and Gordon a little bit. Both were found a little wanting.

        • Hoss

          He would except he’s a Saffa ain’t he ? If not, it’s a bloody good impersonation.

        • Seb V

          Louwrens great running game, solid pass, but lacks a little speed at clearing tho, tends to take his time too much. Would be great off the bench tho with the sniping game and level head.

        • MST

          The whole Louwrens thing is probably being viewed through a very favorable lens and considered using an isolated example. The Rebels have a world class Fijian 9 who is currently second choice. Why?

          The answer is game plan. The Rebels work on primarily a forwards bluepart and that does not suit a 9 that is both attacking and dynamic and needs a highly functional threatening backline. For Louwrens, the basic fairly undynamic forwards centric game is what he has been playing with under Wessels for years. Would it translate to a higher level. No.

        • I haven’t been looking at the 9’s as closely as the 10’s to be honest. I’d agree from my memory of the game, without rewatching, he looked pretty solid.

          As @disqus_KkvtgMK9Im:disqus commented, how much of that was the Rebels gameplan in the wet and would it transfer to a Wallabies test plan? I don’t have an answer because I didn’t watch him super-closely but the Rebels looked poor in the first two rounds and a lot of that was around speed of ball out of the rucks. A chunk of that is down to the forwards but I have a feeling some of it is down to Louwrens too. Could be wrong there, but if I’m right, I suspect he’s not going to get a lot of caps – is Rennie really going to try and make the Wallabies the new England with 10-man rugby?

      • MST

        Interesting the blooding a 10 comment. The Kiwis use a significant time or all or nothing principle with their 10s (and other players) and it seem to lead to better outcomes. I personally don’t understand how 10’s will develop when you are giving them scraps to live off; IF the circumstances are right.

        The psychology behind this is something to consider. So are we taking Lolesio and saying ok, so we are backing a past pseudo 10 who is not great but the best we have on hand. You are so good and our future, however although you deserve a Wallabies jersey, we are unsure you are better that the hack we have who is not world class. We don’t trust you, even though we want you to be our future, to do better that him even through you seem to perform against the same peers at Super rugby level andare on par with the experienced hack. We do not trust you to play for more than a few minutes as you not good enough, but if the stars are align and there is no risk we let you have a bit of a go?

        We need to look at how the Kiwis blooded Mounga and how they backed him through the process; even when he did not have great performances initially.

        I also believe that our process around blooding and player development is why so many of our prospects leave.

        • I’m not sure your comment about the Kiwis not blooding the 10’s is entirely true. It was that way with Mo’unga, but he had 3 years as the ‘Saders first choice and I think it was 2 years as back-up to Carter too. He’s an experienced 10 with a lot of hours playing in the position in a franchise that was doing between well and very well – I think they always got to the knockout stages in all his years. Then Hansen decides to go Mo’unga + Barrett less than 12 months out and it’s sink or swim time. But if you go back, both Barrett and Cruden spent a lot of time coming off the subs bench behind Carter. Carter spent time off the subs bench behind Merhtens. I don’t remember further back than that but I suspect it happened for Merhtens too. Sopoanga was thrown in at the deep end against SA, but again, he’d played for a number of years at the Highlanders by then.

          In other positions, Cane was blooded behind McCaw, and then Savea was blooded behind Cane. Their current midfield issues arise in the same way.

          Now, I totally agree that, if they go with someone behind Toomua, the psychology of it has to be managed. It has to be more than “a few minutes when it doesn’t matter any more.”

          But I think saying test rugby is on a par with Super Rugby is over-selling the quality of SR, however much I’m a fan of both aspects of the game. No SR side goes 1-23 here’s the pick of the national side. You certainly get teams with chunks of it and that’s to be expected, but at test level those players who are not test quality are removed and test quality players come in. You hear player after player talk about the step-up in quality, the reduction in time on the ball and the reduction in time for decision making at test level that they have to get used to because the average player is the same quality as the best SR players.

          You talk about the psychology of “being told you’re second best to this has-been.” You clearly don’t approach it this way. You talk about learning from his experience and seeing how he makes the decisions under the higher pressure of test rugby while you get used to the environment, and you also talk about this being a temporary adjustment. You also pull out team-sheets of whatever Australian and other greats and how they started this way for their first N tests too.

        • idiot savant

          Bang on Eloise. Blooding is an important process. This whole ‘if you’re good enough you’re old enough’ is the exception for freaks. And it rarely applies to the positions that truly count – front row, 7, 9, 10. You are absolutely right that all those NZ greats you mentioned have had their development managed. It doesn’t have to be years – it can be one season – but it needs to managed so that they both learn and dont get discouraged at the same time. Expecting either Harrison or Lolesio to step up and dominate against NZ, SA and Argies in their first season is ridiculous.

        • MST

          Mo’ungan was in the wider training group for 3 seasons but had no opportunities as he was behind Carter, Slade and Taylor. When they all left he took over as the starting 10 with very limited minutes under his belt. He wasn’t called in to the AB’s until the end of his second season where they gave him 11 minutes while on tour off the bench in his first appearance then a full 80 against the Pumas in the RC.

          Cruden debut in SR in 2010, the same year came off the beach 3x times behind Carter. His next AB’s appearance was his call up in to the RWC.

          Beauden Barrett debut in SR in 2012. Later that year he started for the AB’s playing 24mins.

          Cane debut in SR in 2011 and was an AB’s u20 players. In 2012 he came of the bench for the ABs then started in his second game and had 3 more appearances. In 2013 he was selected while McCaw was having his sabbatical.

          Savea became a SR starter in 2015. He quit the ABs 7 in 2016 and was selected for the ABs that year. Savea played 12 tests for the All Blacks in his debut season overall, 2 starting and 10 of them off the bench.

        • idiot savant

          That all sounds like management to me. As I said it can be within a season and obviously case by case according to the talents and maturity of the individual player. I like the way Cheika took players on tour for example as development. It helped Tupou and Koroibete when their turn came for the big time. But you also have to factor in the quality of the rest of the side around them. Getting a ball delivered to you by Aaron Smith behind an All Black pack is travelling first class. Lolesio, if he gets dropped straight into it, will be up in the luggage racks with the chooks on the 7.30 train to Mumbai.

    • KwAussie Rugby Lover

      Not sure they have less talent than the Brumbies. I think the Highlanders newbies are in less critical areas than the Brumbies and that showed. They also have more experience which helped

  • formerflanker

    Totally disagree with the message that the Highlanders deserved their win.
    We robbed ourselves and had a head-high tackle against us ignored. We handed the win to the opposition with gay abandon.
    Unbelievable poor discipline with the game in our grasp gave the game away. I think it was the bald headed flog who gave most of the penalties away in those last nervous minutes, and as for Murray Douglas, he should be polishing boots for the Outer Tuggereranong Under 9s next weekend instead of playing.
    As for the team’s inability to simply hold onto the ball for a measly 90 seconds and wrap up the game, it is inconceivable that a professional team with a gazillion hours of training can’t do simple pick and go for a full five minutes let alone the schoolboy error of having the half pass to a forward in a downpour.
    No brains.
    As for the abysmal refereeing cohort of clueless criminals, they are meant to be stamping out hits to the head not encouraging them with excuses.
    The Hurricanes didn’t win that game. We would have given it away to anybody.

    • KwAussie Rugby Lover

      Hurricanes didn’t play that game

    • Brumby Runner

      Highlanders winger cited apparently for the no-arms shoulder charge to Banks’ head.

    • Nutta

      On the whole I have to say I agree with you. Amazing bad decision making put themselves in that spot and for full time professional players that’s just breathtaking.

  • Mortahs Incoming – custardtaht

    Brumbies snatch late defeat from Highlanders.

  • KwAussie Rugby Lover

    Thanks Steve,
    What a nail biting game. Both sides seemed to do their best to lose it at times with some poor decisions and mistakes but both sides also showed a lot of desire and the Highlanders showed why you never give up.
    Brumbies really need to get another option for scoring. While the wet weather didn’t help, relying on a rolling maul isn’t a sustainable plan for the season.
    I thought Lolesio is still the pick of the bunch For 10 although Harrison Is also playing well when he’s allowed to. I think it’s likely Toomua will start but also that one of those 2 will be backup. I’m not sure on the best 9 yet. No one is really setting the world on fire and this is limiting the 10s play as well.

    • Brumby Runner

      KARL, the Brumbies score quite a few tries other than through the rolling maul – probably more than any of the other Aussie teams. For this game, the rolling maul was definitely the right game plan when near the tryline due to the weather, and the attack otherwise suffered through the loss of their player with most attacking flair, Irae Simone. Certainly, Len Ikitau didn’t add much to the attack at 12 but he is good wider out. If Simone is out again, then another option will be needed at 12; could be Tom Wright, or even perhaps Mack Hanson.

      • MST

        In all honesty BR, aside from the ongoing lack of leadership in the backline (but that goes to a poor choice around captaincy IMHO) the backs could have gone to the pub for half that game as we we played a forwards centric game plan which made it easy for the Landers to defend the 8 players playing for the Brumbies. Set piece worked as it was the core platform of the game plan.

        Kiwis team we take chances and back those decision to get an outcome. Aussie teams, especially the Brumbies wont. The Brumbies would not take any risks and it’s why they looked like we feared the Highlanders most of the night.

        In addition to the selections, the use of the bench by the Brumbies is interesting to consider. For all the good McCaffrey brings his can be a really dumb player.

        I also found it interesting that the crowd who hate kicking were screaming for the Brumbies to kick the ball and not do what they did as they feared the outcome – which inevitably happened.

        • Brumby Runner

          Not sure who else would handle the captaincy better MST, but THP is probably not the ideal position.

          To my eyes, McCaffrey is a starter, not a bench player, because his more creative play can be on immense benefit early in the game. Just not so suitable in a finishing role.

          People talk about taking the ref out of the game. I think in most cases it is just something to say but it has little or no meaning. However, those last 90 seconds and beyond were exactly the time to adopt the type of play that doesn’t present the ref with opportunities to award arbitrary penalties. Kick the ball deep and trust the kick/chase to keep the play near the half way mark, not 5 – 10m from the tryline.

      • KwAussie Rugby Lover

        Yeah but the trouble is they didn’t have any other options once the game changed

  • Paul Rutherford

    In my opinion Joe Powell didn’t have a good game. Too many passes directly at the #10 forcing him to wait for the ball instead of running onto the ball. A couple of occasions because of this players off #10 over ran the play. It really makes it difficult for the backline to flow when the first pass is so bad. I have noticed this in the previous two matches.

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