The Brumbies’ chances of playing in this year’s Super Rugby finals are slowly slipping away after going down to the defending champion Highlanders 23-10.
The defeat at a wet Rugby Park in Invercargill, in New Zealand’s far south, on Saturday, followed last week’s record 40-14 thumping in Canberra by the Crusaders.
It’s the first time this season the ACT franchise has suffered back-to-back losses and keeps them second in the Australian conference behind the Melbourne Rebels, who were earlier beaten by the Blues.
The Brumbies enjoyed a massive 75 per cent possession and four times as many rucks and mauls but could not get past a resolute Highlanders defence.
Even with superstar flanker David Pocock back from a two-game suspension, they scored just one try off their trademark rolling maul via Josh Mann-Rea in the 50th minute.
“We had a lot of time with the ball, we just needed to consolidate when we had it,” co-captain Christian Lealiifano said.
“They defended really well and it was tough for us to get over the line.”
Missing injured stars Stephen Moore (calf) and Joe Tomane (knee), the Brumbies came out firing and dominated most of what was an arm wrestle of a first half in driving rain.
But they went into the break trailing 3-7, following a converted try to Lima Sopoaga on the stroke of half-time.
Another converted try early in the second term to Ben Smith took the hosts’ lead to 14-3 and proved a turning point, with three penalty goals sealing the victory for the Highlanders who lost their previous two matches by one point.
The Brumbies will head straight back to Canberra to host the Bulls on Friday, while the Highlanders play the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.