“The Brumbies brought it tonight,” said Crusaders captain David Havili.
A wave of optimism sweeping through Australian rugby was always going to be put under the microscope in this six-week competition, particularly after the Reds and Waratahs both recorded 21- and 16-point losses, respectively, on Friday evening.
The Crusaders had won 19 of their previous 20 games against Australian teams. Beating them requires accuracy and a slice of good fortune.
With no margin for error, there were moments that left Brumbies coach Dan McKellar fuming.
As Alaalatoa put it: “It shows when you go up against the Crusaders you need to play a perfect game.”
Receiving the ball off kick-offs have been a problem for the Brumbies at times this season, so when Valetini knocked on and Richie Mo’unga sliced through the Brumbies defence from the very next phase, the big back-rower knew he wasn’t in the coach’s good books.
Then there was an intercept, thrown by halfback Ryan Lonergan off the back of a ruck, that resulted in a runaway try.
From there, the Brumbies were chasing their tail in Christchurch and nearly pulled off an epic comeback.
A Lolesio penalty in the 59th minute dragged the Brumbies back to 19-17 before the Crusaders regained momentum to lead 31-17 with eight minutes remaining.
However, when Tom Banks scored a five-pointer and Valetini crashed over, the Brumbies looked like escaping with two competition points.
It was somewhat unfair that Lolesio, who had a fine game and is showing maturity beyond his years, had to be consoled by teammates after his missed kick.
The true litmus test for Australian sides comes next week. The Reds host the Crusaders, while the Brumbies continue their three-week road trip with a tough outing against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Waratahs travel to Auckland to face the Blues.
More Australian losses in round two will prompt major questions about the trans-Tasman head-to-head stakes.
Six days on from their Super Rugby AU triumph, the Reds could be forgiven for being five per cent off the pace, according to Brad Thorn, in their 40-19 loss to the Highlanders.
But at Suncorp Stadium, in front of what is expected to be another decent crowd, there is no better way for the Reds to show they are the real deal.
Otherwise it might be another false dawn for Australian rugby.
Australia’s director of rugby, Scott Johnson, has said he wants two teams in the Trans-Tasman final.
That might be a stretch, but certainly the inferiority complex of recent years appears to have dissipated.
Meanwhile, Wallabies captain Michael Hooper’s Japanese team, Toyota Verblitz, were knocked out of the Top League semi-finals by Panasonic Wild Knights on Saturday.
It means Hooper will be on a flight back to Australia as early as next week but he won’t feature in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, as much as the Waratahs would like him to.
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