Another week, another hard fought match for the CA Technologies Brumbies, this time going down to a ferocious Highlanders outfit at Invercargill’s Rugby Park 26-20.
The CA Technologies Brumbies hard start to the season hasn’t eased, with the loss to the Highlanders pushing their 2011 record out to a 1-5 win-loss ratio.
Positives from the match were big games from Henry Speight and Matt Toomua, while Christian Lealiifano was also strong around the park. Replacement hooker Anthony Hegarty was also smiling after the match having made his Super Rugby debut.
Another positive was that no serious injuries evolved from the match, with each player ready to back up next weekend for the Hurricanes.
After a nervous start to the game where Highlanders lock Adam Thompson made a clever 30 meter break down his right edge, the CA Technologies Brumbies settled into a groove making ground off the boot of Matt Toomua.
Looking the better team, the CA Technologies Brumbies maintained quality possession and good field position but struggled to capitalise with points. Captain Matt Giteau had two chances to put his team in front but both shots went wide.
But just 15 minutes into the match, momentum swang in the Highlanders way with two-quick tries to hooker Jason Rutledge, one of which was converted by Colin Slade.
The 10-minute period gave the Southlanders some breathing space at 12-0 up with a quarter of the match played.
With the ball, the CA Technologies Brumbies looked like a team ready to turn their season around. But the problem was holding possession and maintaining rhythm. The Highlanders were hungry at the breakdown, making the ACT based team work hard to hold their own ball each time contact was made.
Scrambling to stay in the game, the CA Technologies Brumbies managed to salvage a converted try to Giteau with just eight minutes left in the half, pouncing on some loose ball close to his own line to keep his side within eight points going into half-time.
The second half started in shaky fashion for the visitors, with the Highlanders pinning the CA Technologies Brumbies deep in their own half for the first 10 minutes of play.
The pressure resulted in a penalty to the Highlanders, easily slotted by Tony Brown, to bump the difference back out to 11 points, 18-7.
A rebuttal penalty to Giteau five minutes later bought the score back to eight points, but the CA Technologies Brumbies still struggled to string together their cohesion and rhythm.
On numerous occasions the CA Technologies Brumbies found themselves attacking the Highlanders line, but turnovers and strong-Highlanders defence halted the ACT side’s ability to convert that momentum into points.
Another goal to Brown from just inside the CA Technologies Brumbies half blew the lead out to 11 with 10 minutes to go, making the ACT team’s task even more difficult.
Brown was then yellow carded leaving the CA Technologies with a one-man overlap, Andrew Smith taking advantage to score a late try and keep his side in the contest at 15-21.
Desperately needing both a try and a win, the CA Technologies Brumbies mounted a quest for field position, launching the ball deep into the Highlanders half.
A late try to Patrick Phibbs could have been the deciding factor but a try to Highlanders Jamie Macintosh just minutes earlier cruelly claimed the match for the New Zealand side.
HIGHLANDERS 26 (Jason Rutledge 2, Jamie Mackintosh tries; Colin Slade con; Tony Brown 2, Slade pens) bt CA TECHNOLOGIES BRUMBIES 20 (Matt Giteau, Patrick Phibbs, Andrew Smith tries; Giteau con, pen) at Rugby Park Stadium. Referee: Stuart Dickinson. Crowd: 6500.
CA Technologies Brumbies
1. Ben Alexander
2. Huia Edmonds (replaced by Anthony Hegarty)
3. Salesi Maafu (replaced by Dan Palmer)
4. Ben Hand
5. Mark Chisholm
6. Peter Kimlin
7. Julian Salvi (replaced by Michael Hooper – blood bin)
8. Ita Vaea (replaced by Colby Faingaa)
9. Josh Valentine (replaced by Patrick Phibbs)
10. Matt Giteau
11. Adam Ashley-Cooper
12. Christian Lealiifano
13. Andrew Smith (replaced by Tyrone Smith)
14. Henry Speight
15. Matt Toomua
16. Anthony Hegarty
17. Dan Palmer
18. Colby Faingaa
19. Michael Hooper
20. Patrick Phibbs
21. Tyrone Smith
22. Franky Fainifo