Five things we learnt from ACT Brumbies - Crusaders

Sat, May 18, 2024, 6:31 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson

The ACT Brumbies ended their 15-year drought over the Crusaders in crazy circumstances to take the 31-24 win in Canberra.

The defending champions' season looks all but over after a last-minute penalty try sealed their fate and kept the Brumbies in the hunt for a top-two spot.

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So what did we learn?

1. Strange way to end a title defence

Has a season ended more cruelly than what just happened for the Crusaders?

They fought hard to get back into the contest and looked the better of the two sides in the second half, with Sevu Reece and Johnny McNicholl excellent as they levelled the scores.

All it took was one brain fade from Quinten Strange to decide their fate at the siren, succumbing to the pressure and knocking the ball dead to give away the game-winning penalty try. It was the correct call by the referee crew, but not the way the game deserved to end after a high-quality outcome. 

Everything that could’ve gone wrong has for the Crusaders in 2024, from injuries to tight defeats. They now need a miracle to sneak into the finals, starting with a win over the top-of-the-table Blues and multiple other results to go their way.

2. Wright time

Tom Wright has earned his chance to return to the Wallabies set up after another outstanding game.

The fullback is a joy to watch, showcased by his great one-hand dummy and fend to score the first try.

He’s the catalyst behind their counter-attack and was in the right place at the right time to score just before the break before displaying great hands to set up Valetini.

The confidence to take the defence on from his own 22 won the Brumbies the game as they flipped the field and momentum, even if the pass back to Luke Reimer looked forward,

It’s a competitive field in the back three but Wright is giving Joe Schmidt plenty to consider. The only knock is the occasional howler, nearly caught napping by Johnny McNicholl.

3. Can I kick it?

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham noted the importance of using the wind in the first half and his halves took that on board to pepper the Crusaders outside backs.

Noah Lolesio learnt his lesson from a wayward opening kick to hit Andy Muirhead on the chest, followed by a towering box kick that led to a great counterattack try from Wright.

In the second half, they found success keeping the ball low and got reward thanks to Harrison Goddard’s 50-22.

Contrastingly, the Crusaders didn’t use the breeze enough outside of Finaki’s booming penalty, proving the difference. 

4. A taste of their own medicine

For years, the Kiwis have tormented their Australian counterparts before the break. This time, it was the Brumbies that struck to all but end the Crusaders' title defence.

The visitors were the better side in the first half but the hosts were clinical whenever they got a sniff. They twice capitalised on mistakes from the Crusaders to strike after minutes spent inside their own 22.

They then drew the crucial penalty to give themselves the shot late at claiming the win before the brain explosion from Strange.

It’s been the hallmark of the Brumbies in 2024: absorbing the pressure and capitalising when the opportunity presents itself.

5. Scrum presents Schmidt concerns

Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt wouldn’t have liked to see the Brumbies scrum going backwards as they were outmuscled by the Crusaders.

All six front-rowers had Test experience but it was one-sided as the Crusaders drew penalty after penalty on the Brumbies line.

It’s been a major concern for Stephen Larkham’s side in the past month, with James Slipper under major pressure from Fletcher Newell.

Slipper and Allan Alaalatoa need to find a way to turn it around heading into the finals. The return of Billy Pollard will help solidify the scrum before the finals.