Crusaders down Brumbies in Super tussle
The Crusaders have prevailed in the Super Rugby Pacific's biggest heavyweight battle of the season so far, but it didn't come easily against the Brumbies in a GIO Stadium thriller.
While the Crusaders cruised to a 23-5 halftime lead in sublime fashion, the Brumbies showed their championship credentials with a powerful second-half fightback to fall just short as the visitors triumphed 37-26 on Friday night.
"We started really well, but just turnovers at critical times, when turning the ball over against New Zealand teams that then puts you under stress defensively," a frustrated Brumbies coach Dan McKellar told reporters.
"We struggled to win the collision there in that first half in particular ... really proud of how we hung in there and didn't capitulate and gave ourselves a chance there at the end, but a frustrating night."
Just as things looked to be falling apart for the hosts, a bullet pass from scrumhalf Nic White hit Irae Simone and allowed the centre to power over for his second try. Although the Crusaders hit back soon after as halfback Bryn Hall crossed from a pick-and-drive for 30-12.
The Brumbies just wouldn't go away with substitute hooker Folau Fainga'a diving over from close range, but the back-and-forth scoring continued as Crusaders fullback Will Jordan benefited from his side's elite recycling to score in the corner for 37-19.
And again as they looked to be running out of life, the Brumbies struck as winger Tom Wright picked off a Jordan pass and ran more than half the field to cut the margin back to 11 points.
The hosts surged again with a Tom Banks line break and banged on the door through the closing five minutes, but couldn't eat into the Crusaders' advantage.
The loss ends the Brumbies' perfect start to competition against New Zealand teams, now 3-1, while they are tied on points with the Crusaders but remain second on the table having won more matches than them this season.
They landed the first blow inside four minutes, a spinning Simone grounding the ball after an early penalty. But the Crusaders hit straight back with tries to hooker Codie Taylor and winger Sevu Reece, with three Richie Mo'unga penalties completing a 23-5 halftime lead.
As professional as it gets through the season's first 11 games, the Brumbies would be ruing uncharacteristic errors like Simone knocking-on a kick return under no pressure and a lineout throw going over Tom Hooper's head.
"It's a loss, only the second one we've had which is disappointing," McKellar said.
"I thought we had some really good periods throughout the game, and some frustrating periods as well ... we'll bounce back."
The Brumbies will face another stern test next Saturday when the table-topping Blues head to Canberra.