Brumbies vs Highlanders: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Brumbies lost a thriller to the Highlanders on Saturday night.

After looking home and hosed in the final minutes, a last-gasp converted try gave the Kiwis a 23-22 victory.

What are we talking about after that one?

1. Brumbies' mettle to be tested

The Brumbies burst out of the blocks in 2020 with two wins from the opening two rounds and put themselves well on top of the Australian conference but the Highlanders put an end to that. Saturday’s loss was their first in Canberra in 11 matches and will put the Brumbies’ resilience to the test. Brumbies coach Dan McKellar was quick post-match to put the defeat in perspective and that will be important for his players to do too. How they respond when they face an even tougher test, against the Chiefs overseas, next week will be revealing.

2. Foreign opponents still prove a hurdle

It’s only week three but Australia’s Super Rugby ledger is not looking great. The Brumbies are still on top of the Australian conference but all their wins have come within the Australian conference. The Waratahs have lost two matches to Kiwi sides while the Rebels lost their opener against the Sunwolves in their only trip overseas. The Reds went down to the Lions in their Johannesburg clash last weekend and have a chance for redemption against the Jaguares on Sunday morning. There have been plenty of glimpses of potential but until Australian teams can consistently start beating their foreign opponents there will still be question marks.

3. Brumbies taught management lesson

The Brumbies could certainly have beaten the Highlanders on Saturday night but they were ultimately shown a lesson in how to manage a game. With 90 seconds to go in the game, the Brumbies were leading by six points and had possession.

They attempted to run the clock down deep in their own territory and turned it over before conceding a string of penalties.

While it’s always easy to say in hindsight, the option of a clearing kick certainly loomed as a superior one. The Highlanders showed their class in forcing the Brumbies into error and patiently working for the win. It wasn’t just the final minutes where the Highlanders showed better game management, though.

Aaron Smith and Mitch Hunt were on top from the early stages and thrived in the damp conditions compared to their Brumbies counterparts.

Young flyhalf Noah Lolesio, especially, will have learned plenty from that encounter after being targeted for much of the game.

4. Tomkinson tackle sparks controversy

When Highlanders winger Sio Tomkinson collected Brumbies fullback Tom Banks high in the 47th minute of Saturday night’s clash, it was always going to be a moment of debate.

Tomkinson’s tackle was a clear shoulder charge of that there was no debate but for many people watching it also seemed apparent that his shoulder collided with Banks’ head.

As per the World Rugby framework, contact to the head would spell a red card.

On review, the TMO deemed there was no clear evidence of that contact and on-field referee Nic Berry declared it shoulder to shoulder contact and handed him a yellow.

It was a call that seemed out of step with many others in recent months and sparked plenty of discussion in the aftermath.

5. Brumbies looking for clean bill of health

The Brumbies were forced into some late changes on Saturday as an illness swept through the team. Darcy Swain and Irae Simone were both ruled out late on Saturday, with coach Dan McKellar saying that they were having to make the changes as late as lunchtime on game day.

There is still some mystery as to what exactly the affliction is.

McKellar said the side would have to be extra vigilant ahead of their first travel week to ensure no one else was forced out of action. “Any sort of virus you've got to be really careful in our environment because we spend so much time together,” he said.

“The boys are in the gym or scrum, lineout, maul, breakdown, whatever it is. You've always got to be on top of it so it'll be no different."