Much as I bag the Brumbies when I can for being upstarts and not having a history, they are a fantastic side and are always keen to dish some pain out to their elder brothers. As such I was quite tense about the outcome of this game and can understand why it attracted the crowd of 41 645 that it did. In a few short years, the Brumbies have managed to force this game to have a real local derby tag associated with it, though they enjoy nothing like the rivalry NSW and Queensland have for each other in the minds of long-time supporters, yet. When ten year old kids who went to the game last Saturday reach their twenties, it will definitely be a different story.
A lot of people (read: media spin doctors) seemed to be disappointed with this game. It lacked tries for one thing and showed a lot of turnovers and lost opportunities for another. Plus the Tahs lineout was crap. People expected end to end stuff and a constant trading of tries. Nobody mentioned this to the two sides that were planning on preventing just that.
How this made it a boring game mystifies me. I was bouncing off walls with excitement. The defence was incredible, the speed of the game was suicidal. The total commitment from the two sides was beyond question. Lots of turned over and plain lost ball is not always an indictment on the attacking side. Often it is a direct result of hard defence from the defending side. The Brumbies are a brilliant attacking side, yet for the past two weeks, they have not shown it. This is not due to their lack of attacking skills, but rather the passionate defence the opposition have shown.
Anyway, the game was characterised by a lot of lost ball and a tight scoreline. Kiwi rugby fans will be thrilled due to the total lack of bonus points awarded. The referee kept a tight reign on a match that was never going to be any less than spirited. He gave three yellow cards in the match, all in the first half. The only one that I really disagreed with was the Dunning one, which was given for an ineffective struggle he got into with Jeremy Paul (I think), in which I am not sure if he tried to throw a punch or just grapple with his target. C'est la vie and I think even more cards could have been given had the ref wished.
One aspect of Andy Turner's refereeing that I have been impressed with overall is his willingness to call up the forward pass. Calls a spade a spade, he does. There should be more of it.
The first half saw the Brumbies dominate both possession and territory. The Waratahs struggled somewhat to get over the advantage line a lot of the time, something that is fairly crucial to their attacking play, or any team's attacking play for that matter. The Brumbies missed a lot of goal attempts. This is something they will be rueing, and not for the first time ever. This even with local Rugbyheads hero, 'Special Agent' Mortlock going off early and only getting one chance to miss one. Had the Waratahs been the ones to rue the day, at fault would have been their woeful lineouts, giving up far too many of them in both halves for the second week running. An early card to Dunning for punching and late ones to Owen Finegan and Mat Rogers for ruck infringements were also seen. The suicidal nature of the defence mentioned earlier contributed to there being quite a few blood bin scenes, including a notable one from Brendan Cannon, going off with claret covering his entire face. At the end of the half the game is tied at 6-6, with the Waratahs having taken better advantage of their few opportunities.
Second half and the Waratahs started like a house on fire after an obviously successful revving from Supercoach Bob 'Kick it to the shithouse' Dwyer. Tom Bowman and David Lyons were really showing up everywhere around the field. Winger replacement Francis Cullimore crucially also played a very big game, making it easy for the Tahs to cover the fact that Stcherbina was out injured with the new bloke playing a great game. In the 26th minute, Duncan McRae finally slid over the line for a try after selling a dummy (for the hundredth time this year) to Stephen Larkham and Justin Harrison. Mind you, after seeing that dummy four times on replay, I was still buying it, it was that good. With the Tahs well in front at 16-6 (for this game's style anyway), it was always going to be difficult for the Brumbies to come back, and the ice-cool kicking of Matt Burke minutes later put it further out to 19-6. In the 34th minute Gregan got penalised (I think not for the first time in the match) for trying to referee the game, and marched ten for backchat (this was definitely not the first time the Brumbies were marched for this offence in the game). George is too volatile and confronting to be a captain, it is almost his only failing as the extraordinary player he is. Matt Burke was all over him in the captaincy and referee liason stakes all night, not to mention that he played a blinder too. The Brumbies finally got a try back in the final minute through Bartholomeusz, but characteristically and unfortunately for them, the conversion that would have granted them a bonus point was missed by Walker to end the game at 19-11.
Wow, top game for a Tahs supporter, or a purist for that matter, not so much for a Brumbies supporter. Real hard fought, no quarter rugby. Importantly it illustrates that BT isn't always right in his predictions. More importantly it again illustrates that the press are dickheads. Most importantly it shows that the Tahs have somewhat more commitment to the game than in recent memory. This is now their best season ever, and deservedly so.