Tom Banks is set for stint on the sideline after being carted to hospital with suspected facial fractures as the ACT Brumbies prevailed in an extraordinary Perth shootout to keep their unbeaten Super Rugby run alive.
Banks' injury and divisive red card were sour notes, but an Andy Muirhead hat-trick and a Len Ikitau blinder were the bright spots as the Brumbies held on for a 39-38 win over the Western Force at Perth Oval on Friday night.
The in-form fullback's looming absence is a cruel blow for the Brumbies leading into a rematch with the Queensland Reds in Brisbane next week.
Banks came surging across field looking to make a try-saver on Force winger Toni Pulu in the 28th minute. Banks went high as Pulu stepped inside, causing a head clash before the Force flyer dropped the ball while attempting to score.
The head-to-head contact saw Banks red carded and the Force were awarded a penalty try, with Dan McKellar adamant the decision to send the star fullback from the field was the wrong call.
MORE RUGBY UNION
"He'll get scans but he'll be on the sideline for a period of time. It's definitely a fracture, it's just where it is and what's required. Is surgery required? How long is he on the sideline? We'll wait and see," McKellar said.
"I feel for the referees, because they're hamstrung. They've got to tick the boxes. Tom Banks hasn't got a dirty bone in his body. The best part about that decision was we were hurt for 20 minutes, not for potentially 60.
"The game has got to have a look at it, honestly. Foul play, throw red cards at it all the time, deliberate foul play. But for accidents, we're going to have accidents every week.
"Banksy is sitting in hospital now with a facial fracture. I don't think he deliberately went in there to do that. I think it's ridiculous."
The chaos was only just beginning following Banks' send off. Within minutes the Brumbies' 20-3 lead turned into a scoreline of 27-24 - the most first-half points ever scored in an Australian Super Rugby derby - to set the scene for a second half shootout.
The Force scored 28 points while the Brumbies were reduced to 14 men. What they would have given for two more.
It would be easy to focus on the names left off the Brumbies' team sheet this week. Test-capped quartet Allan Alaalatoa, James Slipper, Folau Fainga'a and Connal McInerney were missing.
Noah Lolesio has been given a week to nurse an ankle injury while Nic White stayed home for the birth of his third child, keeping a Wallabies halves pairing off the plane to Perth.
But then you think about the names still on McKellar's team list. Rob Valetini, Jahrome Brown and Pete Samu form a terrifying back-row combination. Scott Sio is a Test veteran. Darcy Swain and Nick Frost are two of the game's most promising locks.
And that's before we even get to Banks and his lightning speed, daring centre Ikitau who had a blinder, or Muirhead whose fingerprints were all over four of the Brumbies' tries.
The visitors' first-half blitz left the Force in a state of shock. Then Banks' collision with Pulu turned the game on its head. Right when the hosts seemed dead in the water, they came up for another breath.
Barnstorming Force winger Manasa Mataele looked threatening with every touch. McKellar couldn't sit still in the coach's box. The Force had one last shot to prevail in a grandstand finish, awarded a penalty deep inside their own 22 in the dying seconds.
Frost pinched the lineout, and the Brumbies' unbeaten run still has a pulse.
"Really proud. I spoke to the players before the game, we talked all we talked all week about building pressure and being patient, and getting our game going. We haven't really got going this year to be honest, in terms of our attack. The first 20 minutes, I thought we were brilliant," McKellar said.
"The red card changed momentum, didn't it? They got a couple of gifts, an intercept there, a charge down try, a couple of things against the run of play and all of a sudden it's a contest. I'm really pleased. If we were told we were going to play with 14 men for 20 minutes and face a little bit of adversity away from home, really proud.
"Tonight was about providing opportunity for a number of players who have worked hard in the background and they certainly took it."
AT A GLANCE
Super Rugby round six: ACT BRUMBIES 39 (Andy Muirhead 3, Ryan Lonergan, Tom Banks, Nick Frost tries; Lonergan 3 conversions; Lonergan penalty) bt WESTERN FORCE (Manasa Mataele 2, Kyle Godwin, Jake Strachan, Penalty try tries; Ian Prior 3, Strachan conversions; Prior penalty) at Perth Oval.
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