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Brumbies bow to Blues to stretch Super Rugby drought

3 minute read

The ACT Brumbies have fallen in the Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals for the third straight year, unable to peg back a fast Blues start in Auckland.

ALLAN ALAALATOA. Picture: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

The ACT Brumbies have been unable to end Australia's 10-year Super Rugby Pacific title drought with the Blues powering to a 34-20 victory on the back of a fast start in their Auckland semi-final.

After losing veteran Test prop James Slipper in the warm-up when his calf injury flared, the Brumbies' Friday night went from bad to worse at Australian rugby's hoodoo ground Eden Park.

As well as Slipper's omission, the Canberra team were forced into another late change with flanker Tom Hooper ruled out through illness.

In the grand final, the Blues will take on the winner of the other semi-final, with the table-topping Hurricanes hosting the Chiefs on Saturday in Wellington.

Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa lamented their slow start, with the Blues running in four tries in 20 minutes to quash the visitors' hopes of going beyond the final four for a third straight year.

"We showed throughout the whole year that we had that fight but it's a tough lesson that in finals, especially against the Blues at their home stadium, that you can't give them that lead," the Wallabies prop told Stan Sport.

"We wanted to write a different script this year but it wasn't meant to be."

The Brumbies were targeting a fast start as they looked to become the first Australian team to win a play-off on New Zealand soil since the competition started in 1996.

But the Blues drew first blood with centre AJ Lam scoring in the second minute after they sent the ball wide to cross after a 14-phase build-up.

After a Brumbies penalty strike, that lead was extended to 12-3 after eight minutes with Blues hooker Ricky Riccitelli bagging a try off the back of a rolling maul.

Another Noah Lolesio penalty kept the Brumbies in the hunt but on the back of costly errors, the home side pushed the lead out to a commanding 24-6 after 20 minutes with lock Sam Darry and winger Caleb Clarke crossing with ease.

To the Brumbies' credit they regrouped and, after winger Corey Toole came within centimetres of scoring, flanker Rob Valetini burrowed over with the teams going to halftime 27-13.

In greasy conditions the visitors continued to make uncharacteristic mistakes, with the Blues' stiff defence and dominant set piece keeping the pressure on.

Blues No.8 Hoskins Sotutu landed a hammer blow in the 59th minute, although ACT flanker Luke Reimer replied to cut the margin to 14 points with 10 minutes to play.

But the final nail in the coffin came when Brumbies lock Nick Frost was given a yellow card for tackling Clarke in the air, leaving the visitors to play out the match a man down.

"We weren't clinical coming out of our end and we gave them free balls off our kick-off receipt and they made us pay through the try," said Alaalatoa.

"You can't give a side like that that ascendancy at the beginning of the game; we tried to fight from there but they got too much of a lead at the start of the game."

Stand-in Blues skipper Dalton Papalii made an early departure due to a head knock but said he was a certainty for the grand final.

He said his troops were motivated for the title after falling in the 2022 decider against the Crusaders.

"It means a lot, this group been through a lot and it means so much to these boys so we've got one game to go," Papalii said.

"Credit to the Brumbies, they're a tough Aussie team and we always expect a Test match calibre game against them."

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