Brumbies ‘systematically taken apart by the Blues’ in ‘non-contest’ as Larkham’s men cop huge reality check


Stephen Larkham’s Brumbies went across the ditch intent on making a statement against one of Super Rugby’s title contenders.

By half-time the match was as good as over and by the end of it, it was an embarrassing display by the third-placed Brumbies, who were thumped by the Blues 46-7 at Eden Park on Saturday evening.

It was yet another reality check by a top-tier New Zealand side after previously being smashed by the Chiefs 46-12 in Melbourne.

Veteran commentator Tony Johnson said the Brumbies were “systematically taken apart by the Blues” and described the match as a “non-contest”. It was, and Larkham now has some soul searching to do after their flat and abject performance.  

Justin Marshall added: “A demolition job from the Blues”.

It didn’t have to be that way, though.

After defending 15 phases early in the match, the Brumbies managed to get on the outside of the Blues as Noah Lolesio took the ball to the line and slipped an offload to Hudson Creighton who freed up Ollie Sapsford to charge to the line.

The makeshift winger was held up just short but the Blues went down to 14 men after Ben O’Keeffe spotted halfback Taufa Funaki making contact with the ball in an offside position as he scampered back to his tryline.

Then the Brumbies’ tale of woes started, as the visitors opted for a quick tap rather than back their usually strong set-piece.

Dalton Papali’i celebrates after scoring during the Blues’ big win over the ACT Brumbies at Eden Park on April 20, 2024, in Auckland. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

It backfired spectacularly as Mark Telea soon after counter-rucked and managed to win back the ball and minutes later the Blues had their opening try through Hoskins Sotutu.

Despite the head-scratching decision, the Brumbies had more chances over the next 10 minutes as they had a few lineouts in and around the Blues’ 22 metre line.

But the Brumbies’ desire to target the Blues down the blindside in the wet didn’t work, as the home side managed to repel the visitors again and again from the limited ball they had.

By the half-hour mark, the Brumbies were simply hanging on.

Rob Valetini got on the ball once to deny the Blues, but his crucial breakdown turnover counted for little as Caleb Clarke scored soon after as he crashed over from close range to make it 14-0 after 33 minutes.

Dominating possession and territory, the Brumbies had made 100 tackles to 25 after 36 minutes.

Then, after Harry Plummer made it 17-0, calamity struck for the Brumbies not once but twice.

Sapsford spilled a kick near his try line and then, having denied Ricky Riccitelli by holding the hooker up, Lolesio kicked the ball out on the full from a drop goal restart with time just about up. James Slipper, who had just copped a heavy blow, would have rolled his eyes at being asked to go again.

The Blues didn’t waste the second chance as Sotutu had another try. 24-0 at half-time.

Don’t blink, you’ll miss him! ????#BLUvBRU #SuperRugbyPacific

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) April 20, 2024

More pain was to come as acting Brumbies skipper Ryan Lonergan had a forgettable second half.

His clumsy mistake at the scrum allowed the Blues more territory and star flanker Dalton Papali’i had the Blues’ fourth try.

After Cadeyrn Neville dropped a ball cold, the Brumbies lost James Slipper in the 48th minute to a yellow card for a high shot.

He returned 10 minutes later, but the Blues had added another couple of tries by that point as Funaki pounced on a forgettable mistake from Lonergan in the wet conditions. Riccitelli then got on the scoreboard.

James Slipper reacts after being sent to the sin bin for a high shot against the Blues at Eden Park on April 20, 2024, in Auckland. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Luke Reimer put the Brumbies on the scoreboard, but their response didn’t last long as Kurt Eklund finished the bloodbath by scoring in the 76th minute.

“It’s been a tough week, it’s been pretty intense,” Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu said.

“We knew we had to respect the Brumbies and how they play.

“[I’m] very happy with our performance. It was a bit lumpy in the last quarter, but we’re happy with that.”

Asked whether he was surprised by the Brumbies’ performance, Tuipulotu rubbed more salt into the wound.

“We backed our physicality, we expected that result,” he said.

Lonergan summed up where the game was won and lost.

“We got physically dominated the whole game,” he said.

“We had no go forward in attack and we couldn’t seem to slow their ball down at all or their momentum.

“We had a few opportunities in that first 20 minutes and we couldn’t convert them into points and it was all downhill from there.”

Stop him if you can ????#BLUvBRU #SuperRugbyPacific

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) April 20, 2024

Asked whether he rued not building scoreboard pressure early, Lonergan said it would be part of the review but added the second heavy defeat to a top-tier New Zealand opposition was concerning ahead of their home clash against the Hurricanes.

“We had a similar feeling after the Chiefs game earlier in the season,” he said.

“Disappointing to roll out a similar performance. Obviously quality teams but we want to play these games. Big week of review and then move on fast and get ready for the ‘Canes.”

Larkham echoed his skipper’s comments.

“That was a good lesson for us, we had a similar one against the Chiefs earlier in the season,” he said.

“They were pretty good tonight. The conditions were testing, it was quite slippery and they handled it a lot better than we did.”

Larkham pointed to the Brumbies’ inability to convert their opportunities in the opening half.

“Just being a little bit more clinical once we get inside the 22,” he said. “We had five opportunities in the first half and probably got a little bit too wide off the nine and we lost the gain line. Defensively we went high way too many times.

“What was positive? It’s hard to find positives when the scoreline is like that.”

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