Hooker Stephen Moore of the ACT Brumbies stumbles in the slippery conditions.Canberra Times photo by Matt Bedford Photo: Matt BedfordAs it happenedTalking points
ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has hit out at what he described as a match-defining referee decision as his team fell to the Melbourne Rebels and their Super Rugby season took a massive blow on Saturday night.
The Brumbies lost to the Rebels 13-8 in wet and sloppy conditions, ending a run of 11 wins in a row at Canberra Stadium and blowing the Australian conference wide open.
Larkham lamented a crucial no-call by referee Angus Gardner in the dying stages of the match when Scott Higginbotham tackled David Pocock at the back of a rolling maul with the try-line in sight.
Had Pocock scored, the Brumbies would have had a chance to snatch victory.
But Gardner deemed Higginbotham was onside and allowed play to continue as the Rebels held on for their first win in Canberra.
“We had our chance in the second half, I was very disappointed with one call at the end when Higginbotham tackled Pocock, for mine it was definitely going to be a try,” Larkham said.
“But nothing happened from it. We’ve seen it a lot. We spent a lot of time on our maul but we’re not getting pay for it. It’s frustrating and disappointing, but there’s not a lot you can do about it.
“I thought the Rebels defended the maul pretty well, it was just that one and the way it was refereed. I thought Higginbotham was definitely offside and we were one metre from the line.”
The injury-ravaged Brumbies battled hard to stay in the match as the Rebels surged to a 13-point lead in the first half.
The visitors were outstanding at the breakdown and had the young Brumbies rattled across the field as rain continuously fell and turned the match into a battle of rugby smarts.
The Rebels won the scrum battle, caused mayhem for the Brumbies at the breakdown and showed plenty of nerve to secure a five-point win.
The Brumbies have won just one game in the past five weeks and the NSW Waratahs are circling for the Australian conference lead after their bonus-point win against the Wellington Hurricanes.
The Brumbies were missing Matt Toomua, Nic White, Tevita Kuridrani, Jesse Mogg, Scott Sio and James Dargaville, who are all battling injuries.
It thrust Michael Dowsett, Nigel Ah Wong and Lausii Taliauli into their starting debut.
“It’s not up to guys who are coming into their first game to win us the game,” said Brumbies skipper Stephen Moore.
“It’s up to the rest of the guys who have been there and played. That’s disappointing that the rest of us weren’t able to step up. The effort was pretty good, we were just inaccurate at times and made too many mistakes.”
Larkham is hopeful White, Mogg and potentially Kuridrani will be fit to play against the Otago Highlanders on Friday night in an Anzac contest.
Winger Taliauli faces an uphill battle to prove his fitness after he was forced to leave the field in the first half after being knocked out.
The Rebels pounced on the Brumbies’ mistakes in the first half to open up a lead, scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker outstanding and setting up winger Sefanaia Naivalu for the opening try of the game.
The Brumbies somehow found themselves still in the game at half-time when Henry Speight scored after the siren to get the home side on the board.
The Brumbies then had plenty of chances to score after the break, dominating field position and territory but failing to dent the Rebels defence.
“We’ve got a few benchmarks this year … being our first win here as a club, those milestones are really important and we’re gathering those as we go forward,” said Rebels coach Tony McGahan.
Of the Higginbotham tackle on Pocock, McGahan said: “It all comes around in different plays, that’s just the way it is.”
They lead the Australian table but the gap has evaporated and they face two massive tests in the next two weeks.
They play the Highlanders on Anzac Day eve before a match which could decide the Australian guaranteed finalist against the Waratahs on May 1.
“It was just one of those nights where things didn’t go our way and we didn’t adapt. The season’s definitely not over, we have to move forward,” Dowsett said.
AT A GLANCE
MELBOURNE REBELS 13 (Sefanaia Naivalu try; Mike Harris 2 penalties, conversion) bt ACT BRUMBIES 8 (Henry Speight try; Christian Lealiifano penalty) at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night. Referee: Angus Gardner. Crowd: 7531.
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