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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
The Growden Report
Brumbies handled occasion better than did Waratahs
Greg Growden
March 17, 2014
The Brumbies held off the resurgent Waratahs (video available only in Australia)

No wonder someone in the Waratahs coaching box turned into King Kong at the end of the Brumbies brouhaha, relieving his frustrations by smashing his way through a glass door. The Waratahs' brains trust must have suddenly realised what dunderheads they had been, by not playing Israel Folau at halfback, No.10, back-row, second-row, prop, hooker, anywhere where he could at least get his hands on the ball. They would also have realised that someone should have actually been designated team leader in the final minutes of the match. And if someone was the designated team leader from the 64th minute on, they deserve to wear a dunce's hat to training this week.

The Brumbies' victory showed the importance of a dominant scrum, the effectiveness of cutting off an opposition's bloodstream, and how crucial it is to react effectively to pressure. In spite of all the pre-match emotion, the Waratahs were never going to enjoy a rare win in Canberra if their scrum faltered at important times, if their possession was limited, and if whatever ball they received was stifled by effective Brumbies midfield defence - particularly from Matt Toomua and Pat McCabe.

Then when important decisions had to be made by the Waratahs in the final 15 minutes, while the Brumbies kept losing players to the sin-bin, the visitors required someone of stature to lead them home after their captain Dave Dennis had been replaced in the 64th minute.

That did not happen.

Instead, several silly decisions - including those to ignore easy penalty goal shots that would have tightened the scoreline and possibly see them take the lead before full-time - saw the Waratahs waste the moment. They also struggled to decide what to do when handed the penalty, changing their options several times. Common-sense was replaced by headless-chicken stuff.

The Waratahs eventually required solo genius to bring them within distance: give Folau the ball from any position on the field, and he can do anything; and five Brumbies defenders are echoing these thoughts after he somehow scampered around, inside and over them to score one of the best tries of the season in the 74th minute.

But this was a rare glimpse of Folau, who was restricted to observer status for much of the night after the Brumbies displayed imperative wisdom to direct the play away from easily the most menacing performer on the field. It wasn't exactly a case of making certain they didn't kick the ball to Folau. It was more to do with ensuring they made it exceedingly hard for the Waratahs to get the ball to their team-mate.

So the Waratahs' midfield was swamped by defensive marauders, with No.12 Kurtley Beale, in particular, targeted closely in defence and attack; this in turn had the desired effect of minimising centre Adam Ashley-Cooper's role in the game. Every Waratahs attacking player was hurt in big, tough tackles. So often, their attacking phases were cut short before they became dangerous. In the end, Folau was forced to go looking for work - especially when the Waratahs started to think late in the game that they were going to win it up front.

The Brumbies had plenty to celebrate in Canberra on Saturday © Getty Images
Enlarge

The Waratahs will be infuriated they failed this intelligence test, but the Brumbies cannot be begrudged their victory. The Brumbies were the better team. They handled the occasion with greater poise. They won the big moments.

With the Brumbies' performance came an excellent, edgy spectacle marred only by inconsistent refereeing from South African Jaco Peyper, who wasn't helped by his assistants on the sideline at times. Then again, this is not an excuse to say the game should have been officiated by an Australian referee. Many Australian whistleblowers have been poor this season, making the cardinal error of believing they should always been seen and heard over and over again, until the only option left to relieve your anger is to smash your way through a glass door.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Join the conversation with Greg on Twitter @GregGrowden

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