May 14, 2023
The ACT Brumbies have dug deep to protect their perfect home record this Super Rugby Pacific season and return to second on the ladder with a 48-32 win over the Highlanders in Canberra.
Nine lead changes meant neither side ever truly controlled the encounter at GIO Stadium, with a special second try from ACT winger Corey Toole 15 minutes from time snuffing out the NZ side's challenge.
The 16-point win takes the hosts back to second on the table as they ready for the finals, and they'll be keen to hold on for a home semi given their 5-0 record in the capital this season.
The win was somewhat soured by injuries to Wallabies halfback Nic White, downed early with an ankle knock before leaving the game in the first half clutching his shoulder.
But it was fellow Wallabies aspirant Toole who put on a Sunday afternoon show, his chip-and-chase try on 66 minutes a brilliant showcase of his game-changing talents.
He'd scored a vital try earlier and produced a dynamite first half, flashing his electric pace for a number of game-changing moments including a brilliant chase and tackle that set up a try for lock Darcy Swain.
Flanker Pete Samu was also in top form, scoring a classy double including the match-sealing effort in the closing stages.
The hosts once again engaged in a wild first half reminiscent of recent home wins against NSW and Fijian Drua, but things grew serious when Highlander powerhouse Thomas Umaga-Jensen skipped through their line for a 25-19 advantage early in the second.
The Brumbies regained the lead thanks to Toole's first try but their backs were once more against the wall when the visitors' Folau Fakatava crossed to snatch the advantage back again with ATC flanker Luke Reimer in the sin bin.
But the ACT rose to the challenge with a 12-0 scoreline while a man down to gain the ascendancy.
The Highlanders were on top early and struck three first-half tries, answered by a powerful effort from ACT outside centre Len Ikitau and flanker Jahrome Brown in a first half that included six lead changes.
Discipline haunted the Brumbies particularly in the first half with a 4-1 penalty count against them, with six handling errors also preventing them from finding flow in attack.
BRUMBIES 48 (TRIES: Toole 2, Ikitau, Samu 2, Brown, Swain CONS: Lolesio 6/7 PENS: Lolesio 1/1
HIGHLANDERS 32 (TRIES: Umaga-Jensen, Nareki, Fakatava, Lienert-Brown CONS: Burns 3/4 PENS: Burns 2/2)
BRUMBIES (1-15): James Slipper, Lachlan Lonergan, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Darcy Swain, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini, Jahrome Brown, Pete Samu, Nic White, Noah Lolesio, Corey Toole, Ollie Sapsford, Len Ikitau, Andy Muirhead, Tom Wright
RESERVES: Connal McInerney, Blake Schoupp, Rhys Van Nek, Tom Hooper, Luke Reimer, Ryan Lonergan, Jack Debreczeni, Hudson Creighton
HIGHLANDERS (1-15): Daniel Lienert-Brown, Andrew Makalio, Saula Ma’u, Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, James Lentjes, Billy Harmon (c), Hugh Renton, Folau Fakatava, Freddie Burns, Jona Nareki, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Fetuli Paea, Scott Gregory, Connor Garden-Bachop,
RESERVES: Rhys Marshall, Ayden Johnstone, Jermaine Ainsley, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Sean Withy, James Arscott, Mitch Hunt, Jonah Lowe
Referee: Graham Cooper
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner, Reuben Keane