March 24, 2023
A short-handed Brumbies line-up has been brushed aside in Christchurch, smashed 35-17 by the Crusaders in their Super Rugby Pacific clash.
Two tries for gun winger Leicester Fainga'anuku snuffed any hopes the Brumbies had of pinching an upset win on their first trip to New Zealand for the season.
With seven Wallabies on the shelf through a combination of injuries and rest, the Brumbies were rarely in the contest and never led in the 18-point loss.
Stand-in captain Ryan Lonergan admitted the Brumbies hadn't shown up, saying the stop-start nature of the match had prevented his side from producing their best football.
"We couldn't really get our game going at all," he told Sky Sport.
"The Crusaders had great pressure at our breakdown and they really slowed that game down. We didn't really get to play much at all tonight.
"We spoke about (discipline), especially with the wind in the first half. We just weren't good enough.
"It started around the contact area, we were constantly on the back foot and then giving offside penalties away off the back of it."
It's the Brumbies' first loss of the season, although they won't be panicking with top-line stars Len Ikitau, Darcy Swain, Tom Wright, James Slipper, Rob Valetini, Pete Samu and Nic White all set to return to the line-up in the coming weeks.
They were particularly vulnerable in the forwards with two of their seven first-half penalties coming from scrums, with Slipper (rested) Swain (injured) and Allan Alaalatoa (bench) all missing from the pack.
The Brumbies snuck an early penalty goal but were behind soon after when Fainga'anuku crossed off the back of a scrum play.
The home side were 14-3 to the good when centre Braydon Ennor got on the end of a delightful Pepesana Patafilo kick, capping a brilliant counter-attacking play, while hooker Codie Taylor powered over in the shadows of halftime to effectively put the game to bed.
Alaalatoa made an immediate impact when injected in the second half with Lonergan scoring off the back of impressive forward pressure, before Fainga'anuku restored the advantage shortly after.
Brumbies winger Corey Toole dragged them back to 28-17 with 10 minutes to play courtesy of a stunning pass from Rory Scott but Christian Leo-Willie sealed the Crusaders' bonus point a minute from time.
Lonergan said the second-half tries had shown how the Brumbies could be damaging, but lamented they hadn't been able to get the battle on their terms for longer.
"We got a little bit of quick ruck ball and we got it to our fast wingers on the outside and they showed what they could do," he said.
The loss continues the struggles of Australian teams against their New Zealand opponents this season as both nations tune up for the Rugby World Cup.
But Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said he was impressed by the Brumbies, especially considering their lack of troops.
"Regardless of who turned up tonight, we knew the Brumbies were gonna front up, especially up front with set piece and breakdown work," he told Sky Sport.
"Early on in the season, we've had a few tough lessons and we've really drilled down to the core of what this team is good at, and we're starting to show some good habits."
CRUSADERS 35 (TRIES: Fainga'anuku 2, Ennor, Taylor, Lio-Willie CONS: Mo'unga 5/5)
BRUMBIES 17 (TRIES: R. Lonergan, Toole CONS: R. Lonergan 2/2 PENS: R. Lonergan 1/1)
CRUSADERS (1-15): Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Tamaiti Williams, Scott Barrett (c), Dominic Gardiner, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Christie, Sione Havili Talitui, Mitch Drummond, Richie Mo'unga, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Dallas McLeod, Braydon Ennor, Pepesana Patafilo, Fergus Burke
RESERVES: Brodie McAlister, George Bower, Seb Calder, Jamie Hannah, Christian Lio-Willie, Willi Heinz, Will Gualter, Chay Fihaki
BRUMBIES (1-15): Blake Schoupp, Connal McInerney, Sefo Kautai, Jack Wright, Cadeyrn Neville, Rory Scott, Luke Reimer, Charlie Cale, Ryan Lonergan (c), Noah Lolesio, Corey Toole, Tamati Tua, Ollie Sapsford, Ben O'Donnell, Andy Muirhead
RESERVES: Lachlan Lonergan, Fred Kaihea, Allan Alaalatoa, Nick Frost, Jahrome Brown, Pedro Rolando, Jack Debreczeni, Declan Meredith
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Referees: Angus Mabey, Marcus Playle