The Brumbies beat the Western Force 21-9 in an enthralling Super Rugby AU semi-final at GIO Stadium, Canberra.
The Brumbies booked their place in the 2021 Super Rugby AU final next weekend against the Queensland Reds – in a replay of last year’s Grand Final – with a hard-fought win over an obdurate Western Force.
The Force, who had booked their spot in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history after a deserved win over the Reds, defied expectations.
Ultimately, they did not have the class that the defending champions have at their disposal.
The visitors did not manage to cross their opponent’s whitewash, and could not stop leaking penalties in the red zone.
Outscored two tries to nil, the Perth side’s only points came from the boot of Argentina standoff Domingo Miotti.
The loss is no disgrace, it only highlights the good work being done by Tim Sampson and the club – look out for them in the Trans-Tasman series.
Toni Pulu’s first-half red card proved decisive in a one-score game because the Brumbies only managed a try in the 20 minute period the visitors had 14 men.
Tom Wright and Tom Banks both scored after Miotti’s solitary first-half penalty.
The second half saw no tries as the Brumbies overcomplicated attacks, and the Western Force‘s stubborn, but brave defence, kept out the hosts.
Noah Lolesio added a 61st-minute penalty, but Miotti hit two goals of his own on either side of his opposite number to keep the scores close.
Ryan Lonergan added two late penalties to snuff the life out of the opposition, and send his team through.
The Force frustrate the Brumbies, but red card and unforced errors cost two tries just before halftime
A tight first half saw the game scoreless after 34 minutes despite the Brumbies having multiple scoring opportunities.
This was partly down to the Brumbies not kicking four penalty opportunities at goal, as well as not getting their maul going.
The Western Force had only spent six seconds to the Brumbies’ three and a half minutes inside the 22.
Yet it was the visitors who opened the scoring when Miotti kicked a 35th-minute penalty to break the deadlock.
Sampson’s men had neutralised the attacking weapon that is the Brumbies’ driving maul, stopping four mauls on their line.
The Perth team’s pack also started to get on top. After losing a scrum penalty, and beginning to go backward, the Western Australians won two penalties of their own, and they began to dominate the breakdown.
However, after the Force went ahead, they botched the restart. It set in motion a string of events that saw them go 12-3 down at the half.
Wright finished off a free-flowing counter-attack in the corner. Lolesio converted to put the hosts in front.
Three minutes later, after the hooter, Pulu hit Irae Simone with a dangerous tackle to the head. The referee, after the TMO review, showed the winger the red card.
Banks kicked to the corner. The driving maul went nowhere again. However, quick ball, and a series of pick and drives, saw the ball recycled quickly to Banks to score in the corner.
The Force continued to keep the Brumbies in check but ran out of steam at the end
Miotti doubled his tally with a 46th-minute penalty after his forwards demolished the Brumbies’ pack.
Wright thought he had a brace on 54 minutes, but the try was chalked off after a TMO review spotted his boot on the in-goal line.
The winger latched onto Irae Simone’s deft grubber and dotted down under pressure by Miotti, who saved the day for his team.
The pressure kept coming, but the visitors managed to hold the home team out until they went back to 15 men.
They managed to keep the hosts to just five points, for a net gain of two, while Pulu was on the sideline. However, the visitor’s blunt attack allowed the hosts to get away with their profligacy.
Lolesio did increase the lead to nine points with a penalty on the hour to make it 15-6.
The Brumbies could not score despite having the better of territory and possession. The Force hung in and added three more points with 11 minutes remaining.
The Force won three penalties in a row from three separate phases; two from back-to-back scrums and lineouts before going offsides at the ruck.
Miotti’s third penalty cut the gap back to six, but Ryan Lonergan added two late penalties of his own, to book his team a spot in another Super Rugby AU final.
Final Score: Brumbies 21 (12) Western Force 9 (3)
Tries – Wright, Banks
Pen – Lolesio, R. Lonergan (2)
Con – Lolesio
Pen – Miotti (3)
Cards – Pulu (Red, 41′)
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Ref 1: Graham Cooper
Assistant Ref 2: Amy Perrett
TMO: James Leckie
15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Nic White, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Rory Scott, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Luke Reimer, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Reesjan Pasitoa, 23 Mack Hansen
15 Jake Strachan, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Kyle Godwin (captain), 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Fergus Lee-Warner, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Angus Wagner, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Tim Anstee, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Henry Taefu, 23 Jack McGregor