Brumbies save Australian rugby from embarrassing whitewash

Australian rugby executives will be breathing a sigh of relief at AAMI Park on Sunday after the Brumbies saved Australian rugby from an embarrassing 4-0 whitewash to New Zealand sides when they downed the Highlanders in the penultimate match of the inaugural Super Round in Melbourne.

Taking to the field following the Waratahs' blowout 51-27 loss to the Chiefs to open the weekend and the Reds' 30-17 capitulation to the Hurricanes on Saturday night, much of Australia's hopes to score a win were resting on the Brumbies against a Highlanders outfit that was without two of their All Blacks stars.

Similar to the Reds, the Brumbies were out of the blocks quickly, dominating possession and territory, with their forwards making an impression early, and within the first two minutes were already in a try scoring position. Unfortunately, in what was perhaps their only error of the first half, laziness from Tom Wright saw the fullback drop the ball on the line and forced his team to work for an extra 10 minutes before they'd finally dot it down through Jahrome Brown for their first score.

The Brumbies made sure to brush off the Wright error quickly though, with their backrow and prop Scott Sio stepping up to set the tone for the match.

"Yeah, I thought the back row they were all pretty good, to be honest," Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said after the win.

"I thought that was Scott Sio's best game in probably five years, you know he looked like he did as a 22-year-old these carries and power in all areas and just his work rate in general.

"Backrow, Darcy Swain played 80 minutes, Caydern Neville first game back in a long time and I thought our attack, Whitey [Nic White] and Noah [Lolesio] and Irae [Simone], we had some really dominant passages there and probably should have been up by more after half an hour."

Clinical early, the Brumbies gave the Highlanders no chance to get themselves in the contest for much of the first half, with the New Zealand team entering the Brumbies' 22 just twice, while the Brumbies enjoyed over 70 percent of territory with their well-executed kicking game pinning the Highlanders deep in their own half.

"We knew coming in they're pretty dangerous when they get into that a-zone, so we had to try to limit their entries into our 22," Brumbies captain Nic White said post-match. "We limited their entries pretty well throughout the game through the winning the territory battle, through discipline, but also throughout our kicking game and also contesting in the air."

McKellar was especially proud of his team's kicking game, pointing to Andy Muirhead's dedication to improving his own game.

"I know there's been huge growth within our kicking game and balance within our game," he said.

"Defenses are too good these days to be trying to run out of your own end, and there's an understanding of having a strategy and why you're kicking and you can attack through your kicking game. We're not just kicking aimlessly; we look at backfields every week.

"I thought both our nines kicked superbly. Andy Muirhead, off a lot of hard work, has turned himself into a very good kicker of the ball and finding backfield space so it's pleasing. I think we've got 10 backs out there today that all have the ability to kick the ball and kick it well, and you need to have threats across the park and that's one of them."

Letting the Highlanders in late in the half, the score at the break didn't reflect the dominance the Brumbies had displayed as they entered the sheds up 17-7 up leaving plenty of points on the field. While a quick try in the second to Highlanders captain James Lentjes to close the gap further had many flashing back to the Reds collapse after they built a solid 17-0 lead.

Falling away from their structures in the second, the Brumbies began to give away penalties and handled less of the ball as they appeared to give the Highlanders every chance of clawing their way back into the mix. It would be a 72nd minute try to Noah Lolesio that would ice the match for them.

"We spoke about half time the first half an hour, we were dominant and we spoke about why we were dominant, but for whatever reason we went away from that.

"After half time we wanted to go back to really powerful and dynamic carry and being urgent and accurate with our cleanout. We knew if we got phase after phase of doing that, we'd open up space and opportunity, and I don't know, that's where we got to be better. It's as simple as that.

"We can't be getting bored with what's working and thinking that we've got a change. There's a reason why we're up 14- nil and probably should have been up 28-nil."

While not happy that his team fell away from their dominant game plan, White wasn't worried about the issue.

"When you come up against sides like the Highlanders and the Kiwis you know they're going to have moments so you know it's not like you're s---ing yourself in that in that moment, like they're going to have good moments," White said.

"You try keep them to zero tries, but you know if they do get one, it's just going back to what we know works for us and it worked for a large part of certainly that first half.

"We spoke about that and I thought we cracked on pretty well. Even after half time they came out of the sheds pretty on fire and we spoke about it on the line that we will get back down there, we'll kick off and roll up our sleeves and get stuck back in.

"We can't expect that it's going to be a perfect throughout the full 80 minutes, so there's a lot of moments and it's just how we react to it and I thought we did that pretty well today."