The Brumbies restored some pride in Australian rugby by claiming the first Kiwi scalp of Super Round with a hard-fought 28-17 victory over the Highlanders.
After NSW and Queensland both fell short in the opening two days of action at AAMI Park, the Brumbies broke through for the rare win in an arm-wrestle contest.
Last year the Australians only managed two victories from 25 games in the trans-Tasman competition but the Brumbies’ performance promised better results this time around.
The Canberra side had only lost once through the 2022 domestic component of the competition while the Highlanders had only banked one win but the men from Dunedin proved difficult to shake on Sunday afternoon.
Halves pairing Noah Lolesio, in his return from five weeks out with an ankle injury, and Nick White were stand-outs, with a clever kicking games helping keep their opponents pinned in their half.
The Brumbies backrow of Pete Samu, Jahrome Brown and Rob Valetini also did plenty of heavy lifting.
Coach Dan McKellar also made special mention of 30-year-old prop Scott Sio, calling it his “best game in five years”.
McKellar said they didn’t feel any additional pressure to get a win for Australian rugby.
“There was no pressure – we felt a whole lot of excitement,” McKellar said.
“We want to create positive stories for the game in this country so we’re talking about good things instead of constant negativity, and I thought there was a lot of good things to talk about.
“Pleasingly we picked up a win today and we crack on and look forward to hosting the Hurricanes.”
The Brumbies should have been up 5-0 after a minute but for fullback Tom Wright dropping the ball cold as he attempted a one-handed put-down over the line.
Flanker Brown made no mistake 10 minutes later when his outstretched arm slammed down the ball for the Brumbies to take a 7-0 lead.
A try by hooker Lachlan Lonergan then made it 14-0 but the Highlanders rallied with centre Thomas Umaga-Jensen scoring and the teams went into halftime at 17-7.
After a Brumbies penalty, the Highlanders hit back again with a try by flanker James Lentjes closing the margin to seven.
Another penalty strike by Lolesio gave them a little more breathing room and then the young Wallabies playmaker was able to run on to a pop pass from Irae Simone for a 72nd minute try.
While the desperate Highlanders scrambled for points the Brumbies defence held firm to secure the win.
Meanwhile, McKellar said he hoped White, the Wallabies’ first-choice halfback, would turn his back on a reported $1 million a year contract to play in Japan.
White himself didn’t give away if his plans included next year’s Rugby World Cup, but hoped to make a call soon.
“Not yet – that will take its course and hopefully it’s laid out sooner rather than later,” White said.