The performance mightn’t have been up to their usual standard, a bit ugly in their summation even, but Pirates got the win over a determined Scone at Ken Chillingworth Oval on Saturday.
The Brumbies were one of the premiers’ toughest tests in the first round and proved so again, with the 43-19 scoreline not fully illustrating how hard Pirates had to work for the points.
The Brumbies took the fight to them, and at times appeared to have them rattled with the competition leaders lacking some of the composure and precision of their previous games.
“That was definitely our toughest challenge,” Pirates coach Mat Kelly remarked.
He, as the players were, was disappointed with the performance, “knowing this group is capable of much better”.
“A bit of complacency crept in for a little while and we went away a bit from what’s got us to where we are,” he said.
“(But) To play so ugly and still get a win is nice.”
It wasn’t all ugly. There were glimpses of the game that has made them so tough to beat, their ability to offload in the tackle causing the Brumbies problems, particularly in the first half.
The visitors showed their intent from the kick-off, applying the pressure and forcing a penalty. Unfortunately for them it hit the right post.
In a double blow they also lost breakaway Bill O’Brien. Barely two minutes later they were down two of their starting side with openside Mike Wilson forced off with a shoulder injury.
Man of the match in the first meeting between the two sides, Pirates five-eighth Andrew Moodie opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a 70m run against the run of play.
After managing to somehow managing to salvage the ball from a scrappy scrum, the ball came loose from the Brumbies and Pirates swooped, quickly shifting the ball to the space outwide.
Selling the dummy, and with Colby La Chuisa outside of him to interest the Scone defence, Moodie ghosted through.
Four minutes later Pirates were in again, Chad Lambert finishing off after another strong scrum.
But the Brumbies scrapped their way back into the game, and as the game tightened up tensions threatened to boil over.
After a couple of uncharacteristic errors in the red zone, Pirates settled things with a try to Sam Collins with nine to go.
He was the beneficiary of a barn-storming run from Nic McCrohan, the second rower powering through the first tackle and then dragging defenders with him.
They drove over right on half-time to take a 24-nil lead into the break.
When they struck immediately in the second half, and then five minutes later screwed the Scone scrum to force a change in feed and effectively drove over, with number eight Conrad Starr only having to pick the ball up and put it down, it looked like it might be a long second half for the Brumbies.
But the visitors rallied, and while it seemed like Pirates had an answer to everything they tried, to their credit they weren’t afraid to try things.
That endeavour eventually paid off with Brian Fitzpatrick twisting his way over with just under 20 minutes to go.
A couple of minutes later they were in again after some plucky play from Louis Pharoany. Finding himself in a bit of space the outside centre went the chip over the top and Pirates weren’t able to clean it up.
Discipline was an issue for both sides throughout the game and it caught up with Pirates late in the game with Ben Goodman picking up a yellow-card and then about a minute later McCrohan red-carded for contact with the shoulder and head.
Even down to 13 though they managed to open up the Brumbies defence, some slick ball movement sending winger Andrew Mepham on a 50m run to the line.
Never giving up, the Brumbies though had the final say with Pharoany scoring with two minutes to go.
Kelly was unhappy with the number of penalties, and by virtue of that field position, but praised his sides’ defensive effort to keep the Brumbies to three tries, two of which came while they were undermanned.
They also had their injury set-backs losing Damian Reti about four minutes in. Nick Pearson came on for him after playing a full game of second grade and did a good job, Kelly said.
Usually so sound for them, he said their general play kicking let them down a bit.
On the back of that they weren’t able to control the pace of the game like they had been.
Brumbies co-coach Ben McRae said they will take a lot of confidence out of what they did.
“I said to the guys if we can stay in the scrap with them we’ve got points in us, which we showed in the second half,” he said.
He said part of their game plan heading is was to get Pirates out of their comfort zone. They “wanted to get under their skin and make them go to a Plan B”, which they did fairly well.
Losing O’Brien and Wilson early did unsettle their set piece, particularly the lineout.
“Both play crucial roles in the lineout and limited what we could do from the lineout,” McRae said.
At half-time the main focus was defence. That was what really hurt them in the first half, he said.
They were caught too high, but did address that in the second half.
“The second half we played a lot smarter and were able to apply pressure in the right parts of the field,” he said.
He was proud of the way his side fought to the end.
“That’s what I like about these guys they don’t lie down,” he said.