Brumbies lose to Highlanders in NZ

By Roje Adaimy
Brumbies lose to Highlanders in NZ

Their off-field drama is seemingly over, but the Brumbies now have a fight on their hands to make the Super Rugby finals after losing to the Highlanders on Saturday.

The 23-10 defeat in Invercargill was their fourth in six matches and second in a row following last week's record thumping in Canberra by the Crusaders.

Just as the full-time siren sounded in New Zealand's deep south, news broke that chief executive Michael Jones had agreed to leave the club next week after reaching a confidential settlement.

It brings to an end months of turmoil that began when Jones was stood down by the board on March 21.

But now begins the on-field battle, with the Brumbies wallowing in sixth on the Australasian ladder and second in the local conference behind the Melbourne Rebels - who were earlier beaten by the Blues.

And they have a short turnaround before hosting the Bulls on Friday, followed by the Rebels at AAMI Park before the June international break.

Even before Saturday's loss at a wet Rugby Park, things didn't go the Brumbies' way with their bus breaking down before it left the team hotel - leaving players to catch taxis to the ground.

They enjoyed a massive 75 per cent possession and four times as many rucks and mauls but could not get past a resolute Highlanders defence.

Even with superstar flanker David Pocock back from a two-game suspension, they scored just one try off their trademark rolling maul via Josh Mann-Rea in the 50th minute.

"We had a lot of time with the ball, we just needed to consolidate when we had it," co-captain Christian Lealiifano said.

"They defended really well and it was tough for us to get over the line."

Despite missing injured stars Stephen Moore (calf) and Joe Tomane (knee), they came out firing and dominated most of what was an arm wrestle of a first half in driving rain.

But they went into the break trailing 7-3, following a converted try to Lima Sopoaga on the stroke of half-time.

Another converted try early in the second term to Ben Smith took the hosts' lead to 14-3 and proved a turning point, with three penalty goals sealing the victory for the Highlanders who snapped a two-game losing streak.

It was just their second win over the Brumbies in nine meetings.