The Brumbies are holding on against the Queensland Reds while James O’Connor provides timely Wallabies memories, analysis and highlights

Little Moments. Rugby is won – and lost – with them. On Saturday in the country’s capital, the Reds lost them and return to Brisbane, knowing they may have missed a game as the Brumbies held on to claim a 23-17 win.

James O’Connor, one of two figures in Australian rugby alongside Quade Cooper who remains a link between the old grand generation and the burgeoning new, knew the game was ripe for victory.

“It was a good game. It was fast. This is my first experience with the new Super Laws and I blew out of it. It was a good pace,” said O’Connor.

“I just felt like we lost a few moments there in the second half. They did well to stop us twice and we didn’t get across the finish line and that was the momentum change they needed.”

James O’Connor turned the game around after coming on after half-time in Canberra. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

The Brumbies’ stoicism and ability to fight back and play for the person next to them brought them victory.

Just as they made life miserable for the Blues in last weekend’s surprise win in Melbourne, the Brumbies had to show every little character to get them over the line against the fast-paced Reds.

“The boys really dug in and [defence coach] laurie [Fisher] said early in the season the first few rounds are won from behind the defense,” said Brumbies backup halfback Ryan Lonergan.

After an unusual first half that saw the Brumbies lead 13-0 in an open contest in which New Zealand referee James Doleman allowed a lot of rope in the collapse and Nic White’s dart to the halfback was the only try, the game turned when O’Connor came on as a substitute at halftime.

After being pushed back against power in the final quarter of the Reds’ defeat, Brad Thorn turned his attention to his veteran at half-time and, as Justin Harrison said at Stan Sport, brought with him a sense of “swagger”.

It was as if the Reds just went bigger while their most experienced player was calling the shots on the field.

Tom Lynagh hadn’t done much wrong but O’Connor’s presence brought a sense of reassurance to the Reds’ line-up.

First it was Harry Wilson who made contact in the 46th minute to score.

Five minutes later, between a Noah Lolesio penalty, it was O’Connor’s brilliant short chip for his athletic full-back Jordan Petaia down the wing.

While brilliantly executed, it was the piece that was just as special.


Len Ikitau showed his class for the Brumbies again with a brilliant performance against the Reds on March 11, 2023 at GIO Stadium in Canberra. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Australian rugby has hesitated too long to use the kick as a weapon. But with airy players like Petaia and Suliasi Vunivalu, and Mark Nawaqanitawase at the Waratahs, it’s a weapon Eddie Jones wants to see more of. Just ask Lote Tuqiri.

The Brumbies stabilized the ship with a rolling maul attempt on Lachlan Lonergan to give the home side some breathing space.

But Petaia’s second well-made try in the 69th minute meant the Brumbies’ lead had been reduced to less than a converted try.

Lolesio, who made a promising return to the No.10 shirt, looked like he had made the winning try after a 14-stage advantage. But his celebrations were cut short when Doleman’s assistants broke in after the referee’s headset fell asleep.

Despite missing seven, the Brumbies uncharacteristically opted for a shot at goals from outside near the touchline. The shot just went wide giving the fans even more frantic minutes between the two teams in the closing minutes which the home side held on to.

“I think it was a quality game all round,” Lonergan said.

“I think we had a lot of momentum in the first 30 and then the Reds really had it for the rest of the game. The quality of their side, they would always come back and we knew that and I think we did pretty well to get through it.”

In an open game, the Brumbies’ back three looked deadly at times while Len Ikitau once again put in a strong performance on the fringes.

But without Allan Alaalatoa (concussion), the Brumbies seemed to have little experience or leadership up front.

Meanwhile, O’Connor’s striking performance was matched by Fraser McReight’s energy and presence.

Hunter Paisami also shone in the middle before being forced off late with what appeared to be a concussion. With Fiji Drua laying breath-taking excitement about the Crusaders, the wallaby’s punch and physicality will be missed if his concussion is actually confirmed.

“I’m really proud of that accomplishment considering we gave them such a big lead,” said Reds halfback Tate McDermott.

“You give a team like the Brumbies so much starting power right off the gates that it’s very difficult to recapture. But we showed that we are a very good team when we keep the ball.” The Brumbies are holding on against the Queensland Reds while James O'Connor provides timely Wallabies memories, analysis and highlights

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