SYDNEY : ACT Brumbies edged the Otago Highlanders 28-17 in the penultimate match of Super Rugby’s inaugural “Super Round” on Sunday to save some face for Australia on their first weekend of competition against New Zealand’s sides this season.
Flyhalf Noah Lolesio scored a try eight minutes from time to secure victory in an arm-wrestle of a contest and a lone win for an Australian-based team in the five matches played at a single venue in a festival of rugby in Melbourne.
“That was a tough one,” said Brumbies scrumhalf Nic White. “The good Kiwi sides can hurt you from everywhere. These games against really good sides, it comes down to a little bit of desire and we had that in spades.”
Travel restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic had kept the 12 teams in the competition strictly divided by the Tasman Sea for the first nine rounds of the season.
With Australian teams winning only two of 25 matches against New Zealand opposition last season, there had been some trepidation that the reunification in Melbourne would again result in lopsided contests.
Although the Brumbies eased some of those fears to remain a point behind Auckland Blues at the top of the standings, there was plenty of evidence that wins will be hard to come by for the Australians over the next eight weeks.
The Blues backed up their win over the Canterbury Crusaders by overpowering Fijian Drua 35-18 on Saturday, while the Waikato Chiefs thrashed the New South Wales Waratahs 51-27 and the Wellington Hurricanes beat the Queensland Reds 30-17.
After the Brumbies had notched up a win for Australia, the 10-times champion Crusaders restored normal service with a 42-17 win over the hometown Melbourne Rebels in the final match of the round to move up to third in the standings.
The Waratahs, winless in all competitions last season, had put their mini revival to the test against the Chiefs in the opening match of the round on Friday.
Waratahs prop Angus Bell was sent off for a dangerous tackle in the second minute, however, and Chiefs winger Jonah Lowe scored four of his side’s seven tries as they romped to victory.
The Reds were without Wallabies flyhalf James O’Connor, who is out for up to six weeks with a knee injury, but still managed to rack up a 17-0 lead in the first half an hour against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
The Hurricanes responded with 30 unanswered points through braces of tries from both centre Bailyn Sullivan and prop Tyrel Lomax as well as 10 points off the kicking tee from fullback Jordie Barrett.
The sixth match of the round was postponed because of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Western Force squad, leaving the Perth-based side unable to field a team against Moana Pasifika.
In the other match played at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Saturday, the Fijiana Drua overcame the Waratahs 32-26 to complete an unbeaten season and win the women’s Super W title at the first attempt.