Slick Lolesio leads Brumbies to historic Super Rugby AU title over injury-hit Queensland Reds

Sat, Sep 19, 2020, 11:06 AM
Christy Doran
by Christy Doran
The Brumbies hosted the Reds for the Super Rugby AU title.

Sixteen years after the Brumbies beat the Crusaders in the 2004 Super Rugby final, the Canberra-based side are the kings of Australian rugby once more after downing an injury-hit and ill-disciplined Queensland Reds 28-23 at GIO Stadium.

In doing so, Dan McKellar’s men did what many have known for a long time – the Brumbies are Australia’s best side, led by a 20-year-old playmaker Noah Lolesio who looks destined for great things.

They might not have lifted the Super Rugby trophy since 2004, but the Brumbies have reached the finals in seven of the past eight seasons including their 2013 runners-up finish to Dave Rennie’s Chiefs.

When Lolesio banged over a drop goal in the 49th minute the match was as good as done.

The fly-half – playing his first match in two months after tearing his hamstring at the Olympic Stadium – didn’t even wait to watch the ball sail just inside the right-hand upright as he turned, head down and didn't even crack a smile.

It showed the confidence and the swagger of Australia’s exciting young playmaker and on the evidence of his composed and threatening display it would not surprise if he’s played himself into a Wallabies jersey.

"It's easy to reflect and say that it was an easy decision," Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said of Lolesio.

"As I said during the week for four months he hadn't played before the Rebels game and he fronted up that night and we were confident he'd do the same again tonight.

"He was one of our best players and there were a lot of other players that stood up as well."

Could he wear the No.10 jersey against the All Blacks next months?

"I think so, like we've done here if you surround him with experience, a good forward pack, which they'll have the Wallabies, a good scrum, lineout, maul and he can play. If you get on the front-foot he's very dangerous.

"He's certainly good enough and age goes out the window."

Brad Thorn’s men were injury-hit, losing freakish back Jordan Petaia at half-time to what appeared to be a groin tweak as well as Lukhan Salakaia-Loto early in the second half, but it was the Reds’ worst display since their embarrassing loss to the Waratahs in August.

The Reds’ discipline was terrible from the outset with the entire side looking more like headless chickens than potential Super Rugby champions.

Winger Filipo Daugunu was yellow carded for lifting early in the second-half, Salakaia-Loto and Hamish Stewart were guilty of reckless high shots and the Reds were pinged early at the breakdown too.

And yet somehow, despite their headless, overzealous play, they still remained in touching distance as they cut the score to 28-23 when Angus Blyth scored a fortuitous try in the 64th minute.

The Reds then bombed a golden opportunity to score a potential matchwinning try in the 76th minute as James O’Connor dropped the simplest of passes straight in front of the sticks.

Making matters worse, the Reds gave away a penalty at the breakdown as they attempted to clean up the fly-half’s mess.

The Brumbies then played territory and when Jock Campbell dropped the ball 30 metres out from his own line with 90 seconds remaining the home side breathed a massive sigh of relief as the seconds ticked by.

It took two scrum resets for the Brumbies to win the feed and when they did, Nic White immediately passed to his fullback Tom Banks who booted the ball into the stands filled by 6,000 fans.

The Reds were their own worst enemies on a beautiful spring's evening in the nation's capital, with their lineout once again haunting them.

Even still, Fraser McReight was the Reds' best and was energetic from start to finish when the majority of his teammates looked tired and frazled. Taniela Tupou was another who starred for the Reds, while Wilson and captain Liam Wright were strong too.

The victory for the Brumbies was justice for a side that was running hot before COVID-19 stopped the regular Super Rugby season.

It was also cause for celebration for their coach Dan McKellar, who ripped up the playbook when he took over from Wallabies legend Stephen Larkham and reinvented the Brumbies' style.

It was only on Friday, too, that news broke that McKellar had turned down an opportunity to become Rennie's Wallabies forwards coach to focus on leading the Brumbies forward given his own attack coach Peter Hewat was heading to Japan.

"That was a tough decision without a doubt. I'd have loved to have worked with those coaches. I think there's good times ahead for the Wallabies - there's a lot of good young footballers coming through and plenty of them were on show tonight," McKellar said.

"I made the decision for a reason and I think I need to be around the Brumbies over the next few months. It's pleasing to win this competition."

Earlier, the home side raced out to a 15-3 lead off the back of tries to Folau Fainga'a and Andy Murihead before an individual piece of brilliance from Petaia helped the Reds get back on track.

Petaia sliced through the Brumbies' defence and got away a lovely pass to Harry Wilson who crossed just right of the posts.

O'Connor's second penalty on the stroke of half-time cut the deficit to 15-13.

But some brilliance from Lolesio early in the second half was the difference as he danced his way to man of the match honours and delivered the Brumbies their first title since 2004.

AT A GLANCE: Brumbies 28 (tries Fainga'a, Murihead, Banks; con Lolesio 2; pen Lolesio 1; drop goal Lolesio 1) bt Reds 23 (tries Wilson, Blyth; con O'Connor 2; pen O'Connor 2)


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