With temperatures nudging 35 degrees at kick-off this match was always going to be a battle of attrition between the two teams. The Reds made a late, strategic change with Wallaby Izack Rodda starting at lock ahead of Harry Hockings with the youngster taking a seat on the bench.
Following the Waratah’s upset win over the Crusaders and the Rebels dropping another game in South Africa, a win here would be significant for both sides. Victory would give the Brumbies the #1 spot in the Aussie conference, while a home team win would remain within spitting distance of the remaining Aussie teams.
Both teams showed their resoluteness from the kick off when, after an early Reds penalty, the Brumbies controlled the ball for 27 phases in the face of some rugged Reds defence. Eventually the ball found touch and the Reds were able to clear their 22m with their only possession of the match after 5 minutes of rugby.
Some more controlled possession by the visitors eventually resulted in another penalty against the Reds and the Brumbies set up for their usual lineout 5 ms out. The Reds were able to disrupt the lineout with some Brumby confusion at the lift and were again relieved from further pressure. But only to provide the Brumbies another lineout just out of the 22.
Rodda earnt his call up with a touch the throw and it was enough for Alex Mafi to secure the ball and barrel his way up the field to finally give the Reds some territory. It was the Brumbies who know gave way away the penalty this time and Bryce Hegarty found wonderful metres to put the kick right to the corner. The Brumbies pulled the maul down immediately and, with advantage, Samu Kerevi put in a perfect cross field kick for Filipo Daugunu to soar but spilled the ball in the air.
The Reds came back for the penalty and looked to out Brumby the Brumbies with a rolling maul try. Instead they spun it out and found Scott Higginbotham flat but, somehow, unstoppable who scored a try. With the successful kick the Reds took the lead 7-0.
The Brumby lineout was failing and Folau Faingaa must have been feeling the pressure with a crooked throw at 20 minutes into the match with the visitors well positioned to attach the Reds line.
The Reds must have packed their kicking boots for this match as Samu Kerevi and, in particular, Hegarty put in a series of monster kicks and, more importantly, astutely. The Brumbies were getting frustrated having controlled the match for the early stages and yet still hadn’t troubled the scorers.
A series of good attacking plays with Naivalu returning a failed kick for touch gave the Reds good position. The Brumbies relented and were penalised giving Hegarty an easy shot at goal. 10-0.
The Reds were on attack again soon after, after another good Hamish Stewart kick and then a another penalty by the Brumbies. It looked like the Reds rolling maul would get over again, and then they might pick and drive before Taniela Tupou looked to force his way over only for the Brumbies defence to dislodge the ball over the line.
With both sets of players clearly feeling the effects of the first half it looked as though the game was petering out until half time. However yet another uncharacteristic mistake by the Brumbies have the Reds one last chance before the break. And it looked like it would work when Kerevi slipped through and offloaded to a rampaging Tupou. Unfortunately, and not for the first time this season, Tupou’s hands let him down and he dropped the pill cold with a try almost certain.
The players headed to the respite of the change room soon after with a hard earned 10-nil lead to the Reds.
The Brumbies started the half exactly how they would have wanted and were over before many fans had settled in their seat. From turnover ball, James Slipper offloaded nicely to Tom Cusack to make a nice run before they spun it wide for Henry Speight to score in the corner. Lealiifano kicked it beautifully to close the game with the score at 10-7.
The Reds looked to strike back soon after and Alex Mafi found space again, however he too spilled the ball and when the Brumbies took it wide to counter, Higginbotham was penalised for a high tackle.
The Reds didn’t have to wait long for another shot as they went for a quick throw in from a Lealiifano kick. Naivalu ran hard and off-loaded to Kerevi who showed deceptive speed to race down the sideline before drawing fullback Tom Banks to pass to Feauai-Sautia for the easiest of tries. 17-7.
Another try came almost immediately when Pete Samu dropped the ball around the half way line, Feauai-Sautia jumped at the loose ball and off-loaded delightfully to Tate McDermott on the inside for the young half to race away to score. 24-7
Once again, the last quarter of the match was notable for the fatigue on show as the replacements would be called on to make a big impact.
Under pressure the Brumbies resorted to their go to move, the rolling maul, on the back of another penalty against the Reds. This time the lineout was on target and the maul seemed set up perfectly. However the Reds were able to disrupt the maul and shove it over the sideline.
But the visitors wouldn’t be denied the points they desperately needed when a wild pass from replacement half Moses Sorovi was spilled by Kerevi and Jahrome Brown, who had literally just come on the field, fell on the ball and was over. The Lealiifano kick meant the score was 24-14 and would ensure a tense finish to the match.
However the quality of this Reds’ performance was evident as they hit back soon after when Brandon Paenga-Amoa picked up a lost ball and passed over the top to Kerevi who drew the defence again and found Daugunu down the line. All the Redds winger had to do then was draw the last line and pass inside the Hegarty who was in under the posts for yet another try from a Brumby turnover. 31-14
The Reds’ superior kicking game stretched to replacement tight head prop Ruan Smith who prodded and kicked and found space in the corner. The Reds’ chase was exceptional and the pressure forced a penalty from which they kicked for touch for a lineout 5 m out. The Brumbies were able to hold out the maul but the home team wouldn’t be denied and Paenga-Amosa was eventually awarded a try under a mass of bodies as the siren sounded. 36-14
That was that and the Reds finished deserved winners on the back of a high quality kicking game, determined defence and the ability to make the Brumbies pay, repeatedly, for their mistakes. It was the most points the Reds have ever scored against the Brumbies, beating the 32 they scored (in a loss) in 2000.
The Reds now host the Rebels next Saturday night while the Brumbies can regroup with a bye.
The Game Changer
I’d consider this the moment Rory Arnold was replaced early in the first half. He’s been such a big influence on the Brumbies so far, particularly in and around the lineout. But in reality it was the back to back tries by the Reds in the 2nd half. The first by Chris Feauai-Sautia and the second to Tate McDermott.
The G&GR MOTM
Izack Rodda was fantastic once again, while this was Bryce Hegarty’s best game in Red. However it’s hard to go past the skipper Samu Kerevi who made metres and key plays with plenty of dashes of brilliance.
The ‘battle’ between Kerevi and Kuridrani was all one way traffic however this was more a statement of Samu as the Wallaby 12. While Lachy McAffrey has been getting some well-earned buzz he was outplayed by the experienced Scott Higginbotham who won’t be considered for the Wallabies, but possibly should be.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Higginbotham (13’), Feauai-Sautia (46’), McDermott (49’) Hegarty (74’), Paenga-Amosa (80’)
Conversions: Hegarty (14’, 47’, ’50, ‘75)
Penalties: Hegarty (30’)
Tries: Speight (41’), Brown (’70)
Conversions: Lealiifano (’42, ’71)