On a night that unearthed two gems in Australian rugby, Stephen Larkham’s Brumbies made it 10 straight victories over their great arch-rivals to spoil the Waratahs’ return to Allianz Stadium at Moore Park.
In front of a healthy crowd of 25,076 fans on a beautiful Sydney summer’s evening, a penalty to Wallabies playmaker Noah Lolesio in the 74th minute was the straw that broke the camel’s back as the Brumbies’ lead extended past a converted try.
Before then a brace to 18-year-old debutant Max Jorgensen – the second youngest Waratah of all-time – had given the Waratahs hope of staging a comeback, but the Brumbies held on to hand Larkham victory in his return home as the visitors won 31-25.
The victory will see the Brumbies return home down the Hume Highway smarting.
Along with Eddie Jones’ return, the Waratahs had been the talk of the town as Darren Coleman’s side ambitiously spoke of their top four intentions.
Losing against the Brumbies is nothing to lose sleep over. After all, the Brumbies came within a whisker of last year’s final while the six-time champion Crusaders had earlier been toppled by the Chiefs at home to kick start the season, too.
But the potential long-term injury to Angus Bell, the brilliant loose-head prop who battled a toe injury last year and was rewarded with a brand new four-year deal earlier this week, is a massive concern.
The moment he departed the field after 22 minutes the tide turned to the Brumbies’ favour.
The Brumbies, with 37-year-old pathways coach John Ulugia called into the action early following Connal McInereney’s concussion, smashed the Waratahs at the scrum while the home side’s attack lost their way without their tank in the middle.
And with threats out wide the Brumbies punished the Waratahs regularly when they got inside enemy territory.
“It’s disappointing,” a glum Coleman said.
“We’ve been targeting one game and working towards one game and in the context of the season it was a big one.
“We’ve just got to take our medicine and eat a bit of humble pie, have a look at what we could do better and fight back next week.”
For Larkham, the victory was the perfect result for the returning Brumbies coach who said he was relieved to come away with the win after letting the home side back into the match in the final 10 minutes.
“It was quite intense at the end there,” he said.
“They looked quite dangerous. We were holding on at the end of the game.”
A brilliant step and fend from Tom Wright on Edmed saw the Test fullback put his halfback, Ryan Longeran, into score the opening try.
After Jack Debreczeni’s 50-22 gave the Brumbies the chance for more points, the Waratahs followed suit soon after when Ben Donaldson punished Corey Toole for kicking the ball away when he should have ran it.
The Waratahs did their best to make a meal of it at the lineout, but the ever reliable Bell steadied the ship before Jorgensen got the ball in his grasp and somehow shrugged away Wallabies forwards Allan Alaalatoa and Rob Valetini to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
It was just the early touch and moment the teenager needed to feel at home.
Both sides traded penalties soon after, before the Waratahs switched off on their own goal line and Lonergan played on quickly from a penalty and found Andy Muirhead unmarked out wide who scored to hand the visitors a 15-10 lead at half-time.
Some magic from Toole looked like giving the Brumbies the perfect start to the second half as he found Valetini on the inside to score. But the TMO spotted a blade of the white chalk had been scrapped and the Waratahs survived.
Two penalties to Lonergan extended the margin out to 21-10, before a great ball from Lalakai Foketi sent Jorgensen in for his second out wide.
A brilliant piece of backline play from Muirhead then sent Toole in to score, as the winger’s stocks continued to rise.
The finish would have caught Eddie Jones’ eye, with the Wallabies coach a noticeable spectator alongside Brett Hodgson – the former NRL star turned coach, who was brought in to replace Anthony Seibold as his defence coach at England before being sacked in December.
A great ball from Langi Gleeson helped Lalakai Foketi make a break and while it looked like the Test centre had bombed the try, he found Jake Gordon who found his way to the tryline to score.
Lolesio’s penalty in the 74th minute all but sealed the game, before Edmed banged over a penalty to ensure the Waratahs didn’t leave empty handed from the night as they came away with a bonus point.
Valetini hailed the impact of new boy Toole, who was narrowly denied an assist as well.
“He was unreal. I didn’t realise how fast he was. He had three metres on the sideline and just gassed some boys,” the Australian Super Rugby player of 2022 said.
“That’s part of our game plan just get him the ball. You see what he does on the sevens circuit. I’m rapt for Corey.”
Jorgensen will have plenty more days in blue, and likely gold. This was some start, tempered by the result.
“Pretty proud of myself, it’s unreal to pull on the sky blue for the first time,” he said.
“So although the outcome wasn’t the greatest, I’m still happy with myself, happy I can do it in front of the home crowd in front of my friends and family, make them proud.
“I’m not usually the nervous type of person but I’ll tell you today I was pretty nervous.”