ACT BRUMBIES 41 (Tevita Kuridrani 2, Matt Toomua 2, Joseph Tomane tries; Christian Lealiifano 2, Nic White penalties; Christian Lealiifano, Nic White conversions) bt WAIKATO CHIEFS 23 (Brad Weber, Josh Hohneck tries; Gareth Anscombe 3 penalties; Andrew Horrell 2 conversions) at Canberra Stadium on Friday night. Referee: Steve Walsh. Crowd: 16,159
THE TITLE CONTENDERS
The ACT Brumbies sent a message to their rivals with a thumping win against the Waikato Chiefs. But is the 41-23 triumph at Canberra Stadium an indication of the Brumbies' championship credentials or a sign the Chiefs are struggling through injury woes after winning back-to-back titles? No one in the 16,159-strong crowd would have seen a six-try second half coming after a dour opening to the 2013 grand final rematch. There were dropped balls, kicks out on the full and plenty of missed chances. But the floodgates opened in the second half as the Brumbies finally put a team to the sword. They secured a crucial bonus point, just their second of the season. They scored five tries, with four coming in the second half. It was the Brumbies' best attacking effort of the year after withstanding the Chiefs pressure. But the Chiefs are severely down on troops with a mounting injury toll. They have just five fit players from the team that beat the Brumbies in the grand final last season. The next month will define the Brumbies' season. They play the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch, Jake White's Durban Sharks in Canberra and have a two-week trip to South Africa. It has the potential to make or break their campaign. The bonus-point win is a sign the Brumbies are still a team on the rise. The challenge now is taking it to the next level.
WHITE SHINES WITH BOOT
Christian Lealiifano was nailing everything as the Wallabies kicker last year, but an ankle injury forced him to the operating table and he missed the start of the Super Rugby season. That handed the Brumbies' kicking duties to scrumhalf Nic White who, for a little fella, has a booming right boot. White now has legitimate claims to the kicking job. In Lealiifano's first start, he struggled to find his rhythm from the tee and ended with three from seven, while White couldn't miss with three from three. But it wasn't just the kicking percentage that saw White press his claims. His kicks were mostly from out wide and at distance, while Lealiifano missed several from in close. It wouldn't be surprising to see White assume the role against the Canterbury Crusaders next week in Christchurch.
TRY OR NO TRY FOR TOMANE?
With the game in the balance, the water cooler moment arrived - was Jesse Mogg's pass to Joe Tomane for the Brumbies' second try forward? The refs sent it upstairs to check, but after countless replays, they decided it was inconclusive and awarded the try. The camera on the sideline in front of the Gregan-Larkham Grandstand appeared to give the best angle showing the ball come forward out of Mogg's hands, but because it wasn't quite square on it was hard to tell. It shouldn't detract from what was a brilliant piece of finishing by Tomane. The pass was at his ankles as he charged at full tilt down the line and he caught the ball and dived forward in the one movement touching down in the corner. It came with the Brumbies just in front 13-9 with the Chiefs coming out swinging. It stopped the visitor's momentum and the Brumbies never looked back.
GIVE US AN ANNUAL ANZAC CLASH
The Brumbies have staked a strong claim for an annual Anzac clash with one of their best crowds of the season. SANZAR officials were on hand to see the pre-game ceremonies go off without a hitch, the Last Post and Ode making for a sombre, moving start to a game between two of the best Super Rugby teams. Not even the lack of national anthems before the game could dampen the mood, as a small section of the crowd could be heard singing the Aussie national anthem at kick-off. Hopefully, we can all be back next year for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. The only dampener was mascot Brumby Jack being led up the tunnel in the second half after throwing up on the field. Maybe it was something in the chaff?
FARDY'S WALLABIES BID
Unheralded and unheard of two years ago, Scott Fardy is fast stamping himself as one of the first players picked in the Wallabies. The hard-working lock has taken his game to a new level this year, highlighted by his outstanding work at the breakdown. In the absence of superstars George Smith and David Pocock, most thought the Brumbies would struggle to pilfer ball at the breakdown. But Fardy has stepped up, stealing possession at crucial moments to be the Brumbies' unsung saviour. He was at his nagging, best against the Chiefs. Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie was watching from the stands as Fardy willingly put his head into "dark places". He played 10 Tests last year and looks certain to add to that tally when the Wallabies play France in June and the end-of-year internationals. Fardy had almost given up on playing professional rugby in Australia until the Brumbies offered him a lifeline in 2012.