ACT BRUMBIES 23 (Scott Fardy, Joseph Tomane tries; Nic White 2 conversions, 3 penalties) bt QUEENSLAND REDS 20 (Beau Robinson, Eddie Quirk tries; Quade Cooper 2 conversions, 2 penalties) at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night. Referee: Steve Walsh. Crowd: 30,004.
The Brumbies had a couple of stumbles in their start to the season. But they will be pleased with six wins from eight games and enjoy a well-earned break on their bye week. The Brumbies have scored just one bonus point this season. But they've lost just two games and will hold on to top spot in the Australian conference for at least one more week. They are setting themselves to make a charge the play-offs for back-to-back years. Despite a horror injury toll in the early part of the season, including David Pocock, Fotu Auelua, Henry Speight, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio, Joseph Tomane, Sam Carter and Leon Power. Pocock is the only player who won't be back this season and the Brumbies could get reinforcements for their game against the Waikato Chiefs on Anzac Day. Most thought the departure of coach Jake White would hurt the Brumbies. But coaching duo Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher have continued on and the Brumbies are well placed to chase a top-two finish.
THE REDS' SEASON
Reds skipper James Horwill was a dejected man after the heartbreaking loss. It was the first time the Reds had lost back-to-back home games since 2009 and the tight three-point defeat leaves their season delicately placed. They are by no means out of the running. But they have a mountain of work to do to force their way back into finals contention. The 2011 champions look more composed with the ball, a break from their helter-skelter style of the past. Quade Cooper is mixing his superb and unpredictable running game with a much-improved kicking performance. But the Reds are being let down in execution. They had a mountain of possession and plenty of chances to kill off the Brumbies. They just lacked the finishing touch to get over the line. They've lost five of their eight games and could slide down the ladder this weekend. Captain James Horwill said: "It's disappointing ... it's not good enough to get close enough. We need to be better, we can't just expect a good 40 minutes to get the result, that's not good enough from us."
THE SECOND-HALF FIRE
The Reds got a perfect attacking chance in the first 10 minutes of the second half. It ignited the Reds and their crowd. The Brumbies scrambled to stop a try in the corner and Reds flanker Eddie Quirk held Brumbies hooker Stephen Moore in a ruck. Moore took offence and lashed out with a swinging arm while Queensland scrumhalf Will Genia dived over in the corner. Referee Steve Walsh sent the whole play upstairs to the television match official. The crowd called for Moore to be sent off when replays of his swinging arm were shown on the big screen. Walsh reviewed it all and Moore was lucky to escape without punishment. The Reds were camped on the Queensland line for almost 15 minutes but after three attacking lineouts, they lost the ball. It lifted the intensity in the match as the unrelenting Reds tried to cut the 13-point margin. But the Moore incident will come under scrutiny to see if Genia should have been awarded a try.
THE "YOUNG BULL" DEBUTANT
Young gun Tom Staniforth lumbers around the field with "tree trunk legs" and a 19-year-old body. Described as a beast and animal before his first Super Rugby game, Staniforth got his chance to shine at Suncorp Stadium. At 196 centimetres, Staniforth isn't the biggest lock going around. He's not the fittest, either, and he was caught offside. But with just one season of Canberra club rugby under his belt, Staniforth's biggest asset is his mongrel. The former Canberra Boys Grammar student is tipped to captain the Australian under-20s at the junior world championship later this year. The part-time pub glassy wasn't fazed at the prospect of taking on former Wallabies captain James Horwill. He pointed and yelled at Reds skipper at a lineout in the Brumbies' defensive 22 metres. He's on a two-week supplementary contract to replaced injured locks Sam Carter and Leon Power. But if he gets another chance he has shown he can hold his own. He got through 65 minutes in his first game.
THE FINISHING TOUCH
The Brumbies dominated the Reds in the first 40 minutes. They had enough possession and field position to the blow the Reds off the field in two games. But one of their problems this season has been their finishing touch. The Brumbies have been brilliant in open play, are willing to offload and their forwards are among the best ball-playing big men in the competition. But either they get too excited or their missing the polish on their performance. They had 70 per cent possession in the first half had 40 mauls compared to the Reds' 15 and had 10 offloads compared to Queensland's one. The Reds have been regarded as the best free-flowing broken-play team in the competition in recent years. But it was the Brumbies doing all the running in the first half, racking up 220m, while the Reds only got 54m of open space. They've got all the attributes, they've just need patience when the line is beckoning. On multiple occasions they slipped through gaps or had the Reds scrambling in defence. But almost every time they pushed an extra pass or dropped the ball instead of letting the pressure take its toll. That patience will be a crucial element to the Brumbies' hopes of being a title contender. Possession swung in the second half with the Reds camped in the Brumbies' half for 21 minutes.