Friday night was always going to be special for the Brumbies, but it also proved to be their 2017 Super Rugby finale, losing to the Hurricanes 35-16
With the home side leading by a point at half-time and holding a one-man advantage, inspirational playmaker Christian Lealiifano came on in the second 40, for his first game since last year’s leukaemia diagnosis, in front of 9,771 Canberra fans.
Though they had the momentum, it was the Hurricanes who finished the stronger, holding the Brumbies scoreless in the second half, and notching two penalties and two tries themselves.
In a match between Super Rugby’s two best defensive sides, the biggest question mark was the one hanging over the Brumbies attack.
That was until the Brumbies found an overlap on the left edge, with long-range passes from Wharenui Hawera and Andrew Smith putting winger James Dargaville over in the fourth minute.
Ricky Riccitelli put an end to some of that early optimism, pulling off a trick lineout, going over the top of his jumpers to put Wes Goosen in open space, with the Wellington winger bypassing three Brumbies defenders on the way to the line.
The Brumbies had lineout success of their own, scoring off a rolling maul, after a lengthy review came out in their favour, giving the Canberra side reward for a mountain of possession, something few Australian teams have managed this season.
Tom Banks and Tevita Kuridrani saved a near-certain Hurricanes try as the Wellington side found some territory, before a second attempt at the same corner was also snuffed out.
Rory Arnold was immense for the Brumbies, while flanker Chris Alcock was typically strong in tight.
For all the Brumbies’ tireless work in defence, it was a random deflection off the head of Hurricanes prop Ben May that cost them a second try, with the ball flying into open space for Jordie Barrett to pounce.
Fortune turned the Brumbies’ way when Hurricanes tighthead Jeff Toomaga-Allen was sent to the bin for a no-arms tackle on Wharenui Hawera.
Lealiifano’s inspirational return to Super Rugby became official after half-time, the co-captain replacing James Dargaville to play his first match in 364 days.
The Hurricanes took the lead for the first time in the 48th minute, with a Jordie Barrett penalty giving them a two-point advantage, as they began to take some control.
It was the home side under all pressure as the clock ticked down, though it was only another three points that they conceded, with Barrett keeping their tally ticking over.
A 69th-minute try from TJ Perenara proved the final nail in the Brumbies' 2017 coffin, putting the margin beyond one score with just 11 minutes left,with Goosen's second sealing the deal as the Hurricanes stretched New Zealand's trans-Tasman Super Rugby streak to 26-0 in 2017.
The Hurricanes will likely travel to South Africa next weekend to take on the winner of the Lions-Sharks quarter-final.
Tries: Dargaville, Mann-Rea
Pens: Hawera 2
Tries: Goosen 2, J Barrett, Perenara
Cons: J Barrett
Pens: J Barrett 4
Yellow card: Toomaga-Allen (40’)