Even without young gun Noah Lolesio, the Brumbies have once again proved that they are the pacemakers of Super Rugby AU after easily brushing aside the Western Force 24-0 at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney.
The Brumbies’ bonus-point victory saw them (14) move ahead of the Reds (10) on the competition standings to set up a blockbuster match-up between the two sides next Saturday night in Canberra.
The Brumbies lost their Junior Wallabies playmaker during their nail-biting 24-23 win over the Waratahs last week to a serious hamstring injury, but fellow youngster Bayley Kuenzle showed he’s more than a capable replacement on his run-on debut.
Kuenzle, 22, was in competition with Lolesio to replace former captain Christian Lealiifano at the start of the year. He might have lost out to his younger teammate, but Kuenzle didn’t waste his chance to show what he’s made of.
Right from the outset the playmaker looked comfortable.
He was helped by an all-Test front-row and fellow international back-rower Pete Samu, who was excellent all night on both sides of the ball.
But if there was any doubt that the Brumbies would lose anything by the loss of Lolesio, their fears were put to bed by the polished performance of their new No.10.
The Brumbies raced out of the blocks on the overcast and cool evening in Sydney scoring twice inside the opening five minutes.
On both occasions, the Brumbies attacked the short-side and the Force’s right-edge in defence and both times came away with five-pointers.
The first saw Samu dart down the blindside, where he broke one tackle before finding Joe Powell, who then passes inside to Rob Valetini, who in turn offloaded to Tevita Kuridrani and the bullocking outside centre then sent Tom Wright in to score a beauty inside the opening two minutes.
Two minutes later the Brumbies had the passionate crowd on their feet again, as Samu once again broke away and found Tom Wright, who combined with Joe Powell to send the ever-improving Irae Simone to score. Kuenzle’s conversion from the sideline saw the Brumbies skip ahead to a 12-0 lead.
Eventually the Force found a way into the match, but for all the possession and territory that they had, they couldn’t crash over from close range.
The second-half followed the same pattern as the first, with the Brumbies scoring in the 43rd minute through flanker Will Miller. But the Brumbies had Simone to thank for putting them in a position to attack, after the former Waratah earned his side their second attacking lineout from a 50-22 kick.
Replacement hooker Connal McInerney put the icing on the cake for the Brumbies as he scored after 65 minutes.