Australia’s drought against New Zealand teams has continued, the Brumbies going down in an 18-13 thriller against the Highlanders.
With the largest lead of the match a Brumbies’ eight-point advantage just after half-time, the HIghlanders snatched the edge with seven minutes to go and hung on to clinch their second 2017 win.
It all came down to a rolling maul in the 83rd minute, but the Brumbies’ silver bullet couldn’t get it done this time, with halfback Joe Powell unable to rescue the ball.
The maul was the Brumbies’ strike weapon early on, as it so often is, clinching crucial penalties and giving them a chance for territory.
An early arm wrestle, the opening 15 minutes were played mainly in the Brumbies’ own, but a came in the Highlanders’ half gave ACT flyhalf Wharenui Hawera the chance to draw first blood off the boot.
The Brumbies clearly had a mandate to fight the HIghlanders’ known love of kicks with their own kick-heavy plan, as Scott Fardy and Henry Speight both found booting some clearing kicks.
It was a lineout that set up the Brumbies’ first try through Chris Alcock, who spotted a gap at the back of the ensuing ruck, taking the blindside route to the tryline, as all others went to the openside.
Highlanders winger Patrick Osborne fell just centimetres short of the line, as the Brumbies’ defence hung in strong under a barrage but Sio Tomkinson had the Kiwis’ first in the 37th minute, from the opposite wing.
Two Highlanders penalties to the Brumbies' one narrowed the margin to just two points, as the Brumbies began to inject more than 300 Super Rugby caps off their bench, with props Scott Sio and Ben Alexander, hooker Saia Faingaa and second rower Rory Arnold coming on.
Fullback Aidan Toua showed some spark for the Brumbies, but the Highlanders’ defence cleaned up two of his short-range kicks to prevent any danger, as the game entered the final 10 minutes.
Camped in the Brumbies’ territory, the Highlanders went over the line and though Joe Wheeler couldn’t ground the ball, the visitors heaped the pressure on the Brumbies, ultimately leading to a try for replacement forward Aki Seiuli.
A last-minute penalty gave the Highlanders the chance to take themselves off the hook but a knock on gave the Brumbies a chance to steal a win after full-time, but they couldn't bridge the gap.
Brumbies co-captain Sam Carter said the Brumbies retreated after the half-time break, as the Highlanders took control.
"In the second half we went into our shell and we didn’t keep playing as we did in the first half," he said.
"The margin for error against the Kiwi teams and particularly the Highlanders is so small, if we’re going to do that in the second half that’s what happens."
The Brumbies have a bye next week before facing the Reds in a fortnight's time.
Pens: Hawera 2
Tries: Tomkinson, Seiuli
Pens: Banks 2