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The Brumbies overcame a huge scare against Western Force, scoring two minutes from time to let skipper Allan Alaalatoa clinch after a big gamble horribly nearly backfired in their Super Rugby Pacific clash in Canberra.
The Force, whose only win on the first day of a season came in 2015, probably thought they had done enough when they ran through Jake McIntyre with five minutes left.
The Brumbies kept their cool and stuck to a game plan delivered over coach Dan McKellar’s walkie-talkie in the box and the Force couldn’t hold their own.
In the end, it took a sleek interaction and penetration from Wallabies pair Pete Samu and named man of the match Tom Wright down the right flank. It ended with Wright floating an inside pass to Lachie Lonergan in support to smash for the clincher in a 29-23 win.
Alaalatoa will have been the most relieved of the lot, after letting a penalty kick past with 65 minutes into the game and the Brumbies ahead by six points.
A similar dice roll eight minutes earlier had paid off when he opted to kick for a lineout instead of a goal and Rory Scott capped a signature rolling maul with a try, the second via this avenue in the second half.
With Izack Rodda putting on a superb game for the Force, the visitors were in the face of the Brumbies throughout – down a point at half-time and fighting back admirably despite a try from Folau Fainga’a at the 47th minute.
With many calling the Brumbies the highest-ranked Australian team in this year’s competition, the feeling was overwhelming relief after the late escape.
“It was way too close, but we were able to get through it and score some points in the end,” Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said.
“The reality is that we made too many mistakes today in those first 25 minutes – the line-up didn’t work well, the Force put us under pressure and we struggled to apply any pressure, but we got through it.”
After the Force’s go-ahead, McKellar said his message was clear.
“I just said kick long, stick to our plan,” he said. “Three minutes left, long kick understanding that it was too long for them to try and shut it down and hope they would kick the ball back to us and that’s what they did.”
McKellar said the team worked hard on their offense in the offseason, but their clumsy execution was “a little too practice-like” at times.
“We showed some really good passes and then it ended with a mistake – we have to correct that, understanding that if we don’t build possession we will struggle to build pressure and put pressure on a defense,” McKellar said.
Lineout was also a concern for the hosts and although they did a lot to correct the problems in the second half, the Force won the ball four times on first-half Brumbies throws.
“Our process and pace was really slow,” McKellar said. “It allowed their defense to be a game changer and put us under pressure. There were a few pitches that weren’t up to snuff, but I never like to blame the hooker.
There were bright signs from Wallabies defenders Wright and Tom Banks, back for his first game since breaking his arm against the Springboks last year.
“I thought he was awesome,” McKellar said of the Banks fullback.
“He had a long preparation, did the majority of pre-season because of his injury against the Springboks. He loves wearing the Brumbies jersey and he plays well in it. He will take a lot of confidence from this performance and he is in line for a good year.
Wright, meanwhile, scored a try in the first half, crossing after good vision and an assist from Noah Lolesio, which had its afternoon ups and downs.
“It was a similar story to previous years – since I’ve been here, I’ve known the band to be extremely resilient,” Wright said.
“With minutes to go, we had to regroup behind the posts and come up with a plan of attack. You’ve seen us do it a few times before – we leave it pretty late at best.