Nic White added spark off the bench and his crisp pass for Wright’s try down the left edge announced his return to Australian rugby in cracking fashion.
NSW blew their chance to lock up a finals berth and seal three wins on the trot. Now they have the unwanted record of six-straight losses to their arch-rivals and their third of 2020.
‘It’s must-win next week if we want to have a crack at finals.’
They have one last throw of the dice against the Melbourne Rebels next week.
“It’s must-win next week if we want to have a crack at finals,” NSW coach Rob Penney said. “The lineout didn’t function as well as we would have liked, we didn’t cover the edges as well as we should have. Next thing you know it’s 26 to zip in the second half. Pretty comprehensive.”
The Brumbies leap ahead of the Reds into first place, while the Waratahs cling to third but have played one more game than the Rebels.
However, there is a possibility NSW could win next week but still not play finals.
There was controversy early on and, while the scoreline softened the stinker, it put the Brumbies in front and they never looked back.
In the 15th minute, Brumbies halfback Ryan Lonergan ran through to swoop on a grubber but replays showed he was offside by at least a metre or two.
Somehow, TMO Ian Smith, who was asked to check the offside, told on-field referee Angus Gardner, “there is no clear and obvious offside”.
Fox Sports commentators Phil Kearns and Rod Kafer were dumbfounded, as was every other viewer watching at home as to how, with the aid of replays, such a clear infringement could be missed.
The overall standard of refereeing in Super Rugby AU has been good, and officials have built a good rapport with players, but such a howler was unforgivable in a big match.
If it had occurred in the NRL, there would have needed to be, in the words of Geoff Toovey, “an investigation”. However, it should not take the gloss off a terrific Brumbies win, highlighted by dogged defence and a deep desire to show NSW who is boss.
In a week where a ‘players of national interest’ squad was made public, there were steady performances from those on the list but no diamonds among the ranks.
Will Harrison threw an intercept with his second touch and was composed without making a major difference.
Heavy rain greeted the sides at kick-off and Jack Dempsey looked a certainty to open the scoring but a wet ball slipped out of his grasp like a cake of soap.
The conditions made lineout throws a nightmare, scrums sloppy and general ball-handling difficult.
The Brumbies, beneficiaries of the try that wasn’t, then scored a legitimate one off the back of a foiled driving maul.
NSW did well to not let the Brumbies walk over them but Andy Muirhead, lurking on the right wing, was able to plant down a crossfield kick from Bayley Kuenzle when NSW had committed too many players to the maul.
There was only a point in it at the break as Tom Horton, channelling All Blacks hooker Dane Coles, beat two defenders from a standing start before offloading to Dempsey who made sure of the grounding this time.
Horton learnt how quickly things can turn, though, as he coughed the ball up a couple of times in a second half where the Waratahs remained scoreless.
The Waratahs talked tough pre-game about spoiling lineout ball, yet it was the home side who fared better in this department as NSW won just seven of their 12 lineouts.
“I think as the pressure built we didn’t lift to that occasion,” skipper Rob Simmons said.
It was a quiet bus ride home for the sore and sorry Waratahs, who now know for certain they’re not world beaters just yet.
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Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald