Brumbies given fright but hold on to beat Force and seal top spot on Super Rugby AU standings

Fri, 28/08/2020, 11:11 am
Christy Doran
by Christy Doran
The Brumbies have beaten the Western Force to seal top spot on the Super Rugby AU standings. Photo: Getty Images
The Brumbies have beaten the Western Force to seal top spot on the Super Rugby AU standings. Photo: Getty Images

They didn't have it all their way, but the Brumbies have wrapped up the Super Rugby AU minor premiership and will host the final on September 19 after defeating the Western Force 31-14 at Gio Stadium on Friday night.

After Queensland put on 57 points against the Force a week ago few expected the men from the West to be able to keep up with the ladder-leaders.

But the recalled Force side showed plenty of spirit to give the Brumbies an almighty fright so much so that their highly regarded coach Dan McKellar was seen ripping into his forward pack at half-time after only holding a 10-7 lead at the main break.

After 64 minutes the Force only trailed 17-14, but replacement centre Len Ikitau's try gave the Brumbies some breathing space and they didn't let the lead slip.

The 17-point win means that the Brumbies (27) have moved to an unassailable lead at the top of the Super Rugby standings with one round to go as the Reds (21), Waratahs (15) and Rebels (14) attempt to also qualify for the top-three finals.

By taking out the minor premiership the Brumbies have the added bonus of progressing straight through to the final, with McKellar's men earning the right to put their feet up for the first week of the finals.

"It's really, really special (to host the final)," Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa said.

"For us, we try not to think about that (the finals) and just try and execute our game play and I think for us it's just about continuing momentum, we've got a big game against the Reds."

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For the home side the Brumbies' outside men Banks, Tom Wright and Andy Murihead were three of their best.

Flanker Will Miller was another who was strong either side of the ball while the bench, led by Nic White and Rob Valetini, gave them a real injection.

Early on Wallabies great Phil Kearns described the Brumbies as being "out of sorts" in the opening quarter as the Force opened up an early 7-nil lead.

He wasn’t wrong.

The Brumbies were out-enthused in the opening quarter of the match as the winless Force won the collision in the early stages and dominated possession.

Their strong start was rewarded in the 10th minute when forward Fergus Lee-Warner crashed over in the 10th minute.

It could have been more had playmaker Jono Lance didn’t kick the ball dead in goal when the Force were hot on attack again moments later.

Their early success was built on a set-piece that at long last fired, while back-rower Henry Stowers was excellent in powering the Force over the gain line.

The Brumbies then had two disallowed tries in quick succession as Allan Alaalatoa was deemed to drop the ball over the line in the 28th minute.

A minute later Murihead's spectacular finish went to waste after halfback Joe Powell was pinged for obstruction in the build-up.

It was a case of third time lucky for the Brumbies as Wallaby-in-waiting Wright scored out wide in the 32nd minute as the Force paid the price for letting Lance's bomb hit the deck.

The Brumbies eventually hit the lead on the stroke of half-time as fullback Banks crossed for his first try of the competition to give the home side a 10-7 lead. 

They never let the lead slip.

McKellar then brought on his heavy artillery, bringing off the bench his Test troops Scott Sio, Rob Valetini and Nic White in an attempt to speed the game up.

The changes worked a treat as back-rower Will Miller dived over out wide just a minute later.

The Force stuck with the highly-fancied for the majority of the second half and even closed to within three points after Lance scored in the 55th minute.

Once again the Force got themselves into another attacking position soon after and threatened to score more points.

But they couldn't quite take their chances.

Tries to Ikitau and Murihead sealed a hard-fought win for the Brumbies.

"Pretty gutted with the result tonight," Force captain Ian Prior said.

"Same thing, again, a couple of crucial penalties there. Five-metre scrum penalty, five-metre wall penalty at 14-17, it swings the momentum of the game.

"I know I use it a lot, but really proud of the effort boys showed out there tonight. We were hurting after last week's result and we bounced back and I'm really proud of the resilience of our group. We've been on the road for 10 weeks and you've just seen the character of this group."

IN A GLANCE

BRUMBIES 31 (Wright, Banks, Miller, Ikitau, Murihead tries; Kuenzle 3 con) bt FORCE 14 (Lee-Warner, Lance tries; Prior 2 con)

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