Folau saga takes ugly turn as Brumbies lay finals marker

BANKWEST STADIUM, Sydney -- The Israel Folau saga took yet another sour turn just as his former Waratahs teammates endured a similar bitter taste in an 11-point loss to the Brumbies on Saturday night.

Only hours after The Daily Telegraph revealed Folau had sent a scathing letter to the Rugby Australia board slamming his treatment and eventual sacking, NSW slipped to a third-straight loss to their local rivals to leave their Super Rugby playoff ambitions on life support.

But the drama didn't stop there with Rugby Australia issuing a press release midway through the Waratahs-Brumbies game in which they responded to Folau's "media campaign", ironically describing how their now former superstar had taken the focus away from "a crucial Australian derby".

Go figure.

On field at Bankwest Stadium, there was only ever one team in the contest as the Brumbies wrapped up the Australian conference with an all-round performance that suggested they could go deep into the playoffs.

Their first assignment will be continuing a run of four straight victories, at home to the Reds next week, before they host a quarterfinal in week one of the playoffs. From there, they are likely to have to go through Argentina if they want a shot at a third title, most likely in Christchurch.

They will savour Saturday night's win first however, a 35-24 victory which saw them retain the Dan Vickerman Cup, before focusing on a Reds side who pipped the Blues at the death on Friday night.

There is a lot to like about how this Brumbies side is playing. After being labelled one-dimensional -- a reference to their powerful driving maul which again bore fruit at Bankwest Stadium -- following their win over the Blues a month ago, Dan McKellar's side have since proven they are the complete package.

As well as another try to rolling maul commander Folau Fainga'a, the Brumbies turned on some sparkling first-half attack which led to tries to Andy Muirhead and Irae Simone, while the hard-working Rory Arnold and Tom Cusack showed their strength and determination from close range.

The Brumbies were up 28-3 at the break and were never seriously threatened, despite the Waratahs twice drawing within 11 points.

"It was pretty positive rugby; we were nice and direct, and disciplined when we had to be and took our opportunities in space when we had to," Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said of his side's first half.

"The Tahs are a quality side and as you'd imagine they came out in the second half and challenged us, put us under a little bit of pressure in defence, which you'd expect when they're 28-3 down. So we didn't get it all our own way in the second half, the first half we were very good."

The hosts were simply outclassed in the first 40; missed tackles, dropped ball and poor decision-making all contributing to a performance that has all but mathematically ended their season.

"First half, obviously first 10 minutes, being 3-0 up, I thought we started well," Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said.

"And then there was that period between the 20th and 40th minute where I thought the Brumbies had an excellent platform to operate from; their set-piece functioned very well and they were able to put a lot of pressure on us and they were able to score tries from it."

The Waratahs travel to Dunedin to face the Highlanders next Friday to round out their season, likely without frontline Wallabies Bernard Foley, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu and skipper Michael Hooper.

Folau has, of course, been absent for some time.

Super Rugby's highest try-scorer is perhaps now casting a greater shadow over not just the Waratahs but Australian rugby on the whole, more so than he ever did while playing, in a saga that is showing no signs of slowing and seemingly sinking to new depths every day.

"While we accept that a PR firm has been engaged to coordinate a media campaign to promote the legal action taken against Rugby Australia, we are disappointed that this campaign is impacting on the work done by the thousands of volunteers who are delivering great experiences for the Rugby community and also that it has taken the focus away from a crucial Australian Super Rugby derby, being played by Israel's former team tonight," Rugby Australia's media statement read.

"Rugby Australia has acted with complete professionalism and integrity at all times through the process in which Mr Folau was found by an independent three-member tribunal panel to have made multiple, serious breaches of the Professional Players Code of Conduct.

"While we will continue to respond to any legal action as required and will continue to defend the values that underpin our game and the work done by the hard working volunteers, we will not engage in a running media commentary."

The Brumbies, thankfully, are a good news Australian rugby story who could well mount the best playoff run of any Australian side since the Waratahs last hosted a semifinal in 2015. They will likely have to overcome the tyranny of distance, including a potential roadtrip to Argentina, just to even earn a shot at a third title.

But there is also a quiet confidence about this Brumbies team who has now won seven of its last eight matches.

"Yeah, yeah, definitely," McKellar responded when asked whether his side was playing the kind of rugby that can win titles.

"On anyone's day, is it the Brumbies, or whoever it is, once you get into that top eight and if you've got confidence and momentum and belief in how you're playing, then any team is going to be dangerous. And I don't think we're any different there."