Big-game experience has proven telling as the Brumbies outlasted a gallant Reds outfit 28-23 to take out the Super Rugby title.
Brad Thorn’s youthful side were eyeing their first championship since 2011 and it was already a huge challenge for them to step up on the biggest stage of all.
But they had to deal with all kinds of adversity, losing Jordan Petaia and Lukhan Salakai-Loto as well as contending with a yellow card in the second half.
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They trailed 28-13 at one point before storming home to set up a thrilling finish but they could not come up with the clutch play late.
It was a different occasion for the Reds who only two years ago were starting a rebuild under coach Thorn.
There were question marks over the decision to part ways with Wallabies playmaker and favourite son Quade Cooper, who had helped lead the Reds to that title victory nine years ago.
Karmichael Hunt and James Slipper soon followed.
Thorn was not certain it would bring the results he wanted but he also knew that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
So he got behind the player cleanout and embraced youth.
The Brumbies came into Saturday night’s decider boasting far more experience and it showed early as they handled the occasion better to take a 15-3 lead.
It came off the back of fly half Noah Lolesio, who had not played since July 18.
But such is the raps on the youngster that he was brought right back in and he stepped up with seven runs, 185 kicking metres and two tackle busts as he stamped his claims for the Wallabies No. 10 jersey.
His biggest highlight came in the second try of the night as he engaged the line before turning it back for Andrew Muirhead who crashed through to score.
Lolesio gave the Brumbies the early lead prior to that, kicking a penalty goal after ill-discipline from Salakaia-Loto.
Tom Wright was later pinged for offside, giving James O’Connor the chance to put the ball through the sticks and lock it up at 3-all.
The Brumbies’ maul may not be their secret weapon but it is still effective and proved the starting point for the opening try of the night as Folau Fainga’a charged over.
There were also doubts around the health of Petaia but the youngster shook off a head knock and look anything but out of it as he broke through to set up Queensland’s bounce-back try for Andrew Muirhead.
“That shows how a good footballer this kid can be,” former Wallaby Phil Kearns said in commentary.
Brumbies legend George Gregan added: “That was just an incredible piece of play.”
Petaia finished the first half with 28 run metres, a try assist, line break and tackle bust before succumbing to injury and failing to return in a cruel blow.
He was hobbling around on one leg prior to coming off.
O’Connor then nailed a penalty goal after the siren to reduce the deficit to two points at the break.
The Brumbies came out with far more energy and intent in the second, taking the quick tap before Thomas Banks surged through to extend the lead to nine.
Lolesio then slotted the drop goal to push that difference out to 12 points.
If the occasion was not enough for the young Reds side to contend with, they also lost Salakaia-Loto and had Filipo Daugunu sent to the bin as the Brumbies controlled the second half beautifully.
Lolesio put over another penalty goal as ill-discipline and frustration crept in for Queensland who began to panic.
O’Connor went past Will Harrison to become the leading points scorer for the season as he slotted a penalty shot as time trickled down with Daugunu in the bin.
The Reds were desperate for some spark and it was Tate McDermott who provided it, stepping through with brilliant footwork to put Angus Blyth over.
Queensland had a massive shot at taking the lead when they opted for a line-out close to the Brumbies’ line but their achilles heel reared its ugly head again with the home side regaining possession.
The Reds had a chance to steal it late but could not come up with the result, just falling short.
For such a young side, Queensland kept on pushing and while it did not come through, there is little doubt this will be a learning experience that will only benefit them in the long-term.
For now though, it is all about the Brumbies, who snapped a 16-year drought to take out a well-deserved title.
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