The ACT Brumbies have survived a scare from a spirited Moana Pasifika side to maintain their unbeaten Super Rugby Pacific record with a rollicking 62-36 win in Canberra.
The aptly named Miracle Fai’ilagi – spotted at the World Rugby Pacific combine in Samoa last year – set the tone in the second minute with a galloping intercept try on Saturday.
And winless Moana kept throwing punches in search of a major upset at GIO Stadium, even beating the Brumbies at their own game with a well worked rolling maul try.
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But Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham was able to lean on a high quality bench to pull away late in the second half, highlighted by Ben O’Donnell’s superb maiden try that was set up by fellow former Australian sevens star Corey Toole.
“The fastest man, pretty much, in the competition,” Nine and Stan Sport commentator Morgan Turinui said of breakout winger Toole.
Ollie Sapsford – who shifted to outside centre after Len Ikitau’s late withdrawal – was also impressive for the Brumbies, who returned to second on the standings behind the also unbeaten Chiefs.
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Next up for the Brumbies is a mouthwatering date with the defending champion Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday.
The now 2-2 Crusaders returned to form with a gutsy 34-28 win over the Blues on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s final at Auckland’s Eden Park.
The Brumbies will first need to nurse some serious bumps and bruises.
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“It’s a big score but gee Moana Pasifika pushed this Brumbies side in all aspects,” former ACT and Wallabies lock Justin Harrison said.
“The scoreline isn’t really reflective of what they put in.”
It was also an emotional return to Canberra for Brumbies legend Christian Lealiifano, who now captains Moana.
“We came to Canberra with high ambitions mate, and 36 points, you think you get close to winning a contest,” Lealiifano told Turinui.
“I think just the physical battle, we lost that tonight and that was disappointing for us man. It’s in our DNA to play physical and the Brumbies really matched us and sort of overtook us in that space.”
Moana’s next match is against the Hurricanes at Mt Smart Stadium next Saturday.
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