The Brumbies’ 10-game winning streak at GIO Stadium came to an end in devastating fashion on Saturday night (February 15) as the Highlanders snatched a dramatic 23-22 victory.
Brumbies hooker Folau Fainga’a’s hat trick wasn’t enough for the hosts to see out an 11th straight home win as a try at the death from the visitors cemented their fifth straight victory over the capital outfit.
Dan McKellar’s men were made to pay in the dying moments of the match when they tried running down the clock in their own quarter and instead gave away a penalty, which the Highlanders took full advantage of to get their first win of the 2020 season.
“I’m very proud and shattered at the same time,” McKellar said. “I thought we were one more carry away from putting the ball into touch … they were good to force a turn over there, back-to-back penalties and the yellow card … I’m proud of the effort.”
The travelling side picked up a yellow card in the 83rd minute as Sio Tomkinson was penalised for an early drive. The Brumbies coach believed it should have been more.
“I thought it was a red card, but I don’t want to sit here and whinge about referees or anything like that,” McKellar said. “If you’re asking me as a rugby fan from what we have seen previously, I thought it was in that red card threshold.”
Captain Allan Alaalatoa was disappointed with the outcome of the encounter, but still found room to talk about the positives.
“The boys have to be proud of the effort,” Alaalatoa said. “We gave ourselves every opportunity to win that game and the way that we came back in that second half and to put ourselves in a position to win, there’s definitely a lot to take from it.
“I think we should be hard on ourselves as always but there is room to grow and I’m proud of the boys.”
Though the Highlanders got off to a 3-0 lead in the early exchanges, it would be the Brumbies who scored the first try of the game after the Canberrans delivered a strong driving maul for Fainga’a to crash over and make it 5-3 after 12 minutes.
The driving maul would be in full use once again 10 minutes before the break as Fainga’a scored his second try of the game.
Aaron Mauger’s team then celebrated a try of their own two minutes later from the kick-off when Jona Nareki charged down Noah Lolesio’s clearance to reduce the deficit to 12-10.
The Highlanders then took their first lead of the proceedings through Josh Ioane’s penalty goal to make it 13-12 at the break.
Another penalty helped the New Zealanders stretch their lead by four points, but the Brumbies came right back and delivered on what had brought them success with their first two tries when Fainga’a capped off his hat trick to put his men back in front.
Ryan Lonergan then struck the ball between the posts in the 75th minute to give the home team a 22-16 lead as they tried to see out the match.
The Brumbies then shot themselves in the foot trying to chew down the clock to see out victory when they gave away a penalty which put pressure on their defensive line.
The home side’s fans would then have their hearts broken in stoppage time when Teariki Ben-Nicholas threw himself over the line to capture the visitor’s first win of the campaign and end the Brumbies’ winning streak at home.
Brumbies 22-23 Highlanders
Brumbies tries: Fainga’a (3). Conversions: Lolesio, Lonergan. Penalties: Lonergan.
Highlanders tries: Nareki, Ben-Nicholas. Conversions: Ioane (2). Penalties: Ioane (3). Yellow cards: Tomkinson.
Brumbies: 1. James Slipper, 2. Folau Fainga’a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa (c), 4. Darcy Swain, 5. Murray Douglas, 6. Rob Valetini, 7. Will Miller, 8. Pete Samu, 9. Joe Powell, 10. Noah Lolesio, 11. Tom Wright, 12. Irae Simone, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Solomone Kata, 15. Tom Banks
Substitutes: 16. Connal McInerney, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Tom Ross, 19. Cadeyrn Neville, 20. Lachlan McCaffrey, 21. Ryan Lonergan, 22. Len Ikitau, 23. Andy Muirhead
Highlanders: 1. Ayden Johnstone, 2. Liam Coltman, 3. Siate Tokolahi, 4. Josh Dickson, 5. Jesse Parete, 6. Shannon Frizell, 7. James Lentjes (c), 8. Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Mitch Hunt, 11. Jona Nareki, 12. Josh Ioane, 13. Rob Thompson, 14. Sio Tomkinson, 15. Josh McKay
Substitutes: 16. Ash Dixon, 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18. Conan O’Donnell, 19. Jack Whetton, 20. Dillon Hunt, 21. Kayne Hammington, 22. Michael Collins, 23. Teariki Ben-Nicholas