The ACT Brumbies will defend their Super Rugby AU title against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane next week after beating the shorthanded Western Force 21-9 in a tight semi-final playoff in Canberra on Saturday.
The Force, playing a first playoff in their 16 years of existence, fought to the bitter end but playing for 20 minutes with only 14 men after Toni Pulu was shown a red card took its toll in such an attritional battle.
Tom Wright and Tom Banks scored first-half tries while Noah Lolesio and Ryan Lonergan contributed 11 points from the kicking tee as the Brumbies set up a re-match of last year’s inaugural Super Rugby AU final.
“Probably a little bit too close for comfort,” said Wright. “The Force are probably a bit under-rated so all credit to them, their defensive stuff was pretty on point tonight. Hopefully, we can build on some of our attacking stuff for next week.”
Argentine flyhalf Domingo Miotti scored all of the Force’s points through three penalties which, combined with resolute defence, discipline and hard work, kept the Perth-based outfit in the game until the last 10 minutes.
The Brumbies dominated possession and territory but were kept scoreless until the 36th minute when, stung into action by Miotti getting the first points on the board, they put together a backline move that allowed Wright to touch down in the corner.
The Force’s hopes of going into halftime with only a 7-3 deficit suffered a blow, however, when former Brumbies winger Pulu was sent off after his shoulder made contact with the face of Irae Simone in a tackle.
The Brumbies took quick advantage of the extra man and fullback Banks scored on the overlap to give them a 12-3 lead at the break.
Under a law variation used in Super Rugby, the Force were able to replace Pulu after 20 minutes and Miotti had already cut the deficit to 12-6 before they were restored to full complement.
The Force battled on and it was only when Lonergan kicked two penalties in the last seven minutes that the trip north to Brisbane for next Saturday’s final was secured.
“We were in it right to the end,” said the Force’s former All Blacks centre Richard Kahui. “The red card really hurt us.”