Brumbies hold off Highlanders
Christian Lealiifano (Gallo Images)
Canberra - The Brumbies brought a shuddering halt to the Highlanders' perfect start to the Super Rugby season with a shock 33-26 victory over the New Zealanders in Canberra on Saturday.
Wing Joe Tomane bagged two tries in the first 15 minutes and flank Michael Hooper chipped in with an opportunist effort after the break while flyhalf Christian Lealiifano kicked a perfect seven from seven with the boot.
It was a third win in four matches for the Brumbies this season under new South African coach Jake White after they won four in total over their last campaign.
"We back ourselves and I think you can see from the way we play that we trust each other," a delighted Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said in a pitchside interview. "This is our home and we know we've got to play in a different gear here."
The Highlanders, who had won their first four matches to top the Super Rugby standings, scored tries through scrumhalf Aaron Smith and centre Shaun Treeby but lost flyhalf Colin Slade to what looked like being a season-ending injury.
The luckless Slade, who missed most of last season after breaking his jaw twice and was ruled out the 2011 Rugby World Cup with a groin injury, badly injured his ankle in a Pat McCabe tackle after 50 minutes and was taken off the pitch on a stretcher.
Tomane's early strikes gave the home side an early lead despite a paltry amount of possession but the Highlanders hit back through Smith's try after good work from Hosea Gear before the break.
When Treeby got up from a tackle and dashed across the line nine minutes after half-time, the match was all square at 23-23 and the momentum seemed to be with the visitors.
The teams traded penalties in the middle of the second half but the match was decided when opensider Hooper snaffled up a loose ball inside the Highlanders' 22 and just about made it to the line after 62 minutes.
The Brumbies had challenged the Highlanders in the tackle area all evening and the tactic paid off as they stifled the New Zealanders' ball in a tense final 18 minutes.
"Hats off to the Brumbies," said Highlanders skipper Jamie Mackintosh. "Their intensity and physicality at the breakdown was top notch. It's a disappointing performance but that was due to a Brumbies team that were hungry."
The Brumbies picked up four points for their victory and moved to the top of the Australian Conference and into third spot in the Overall log.
The Highlanders left Canberra with a single point for losing by seven or fewer points, but stayed second in both the New Zealand and Overall standings.
In next weekend's Round 6 action, the Brumbies entertain the Sharks in Canberra, while the Highlanders are at home in Invercargill against the Rebels.
15. Jesse Mogg, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Andrew Smith, 12. Pat McCabe, 11. Joseph Tomane, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 9. Nic White, 8. Ben Mowen (captain), 7. Michael Hooper, 6. Peter Kimlin, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Leon Power, 3. Dan Palmer, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Ben Alexander
Substitutes: 16. Anthony Hegarty, 17. Ruaidhri Murphy, 18. Scott Fardy, 19. Ita Vaea, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Zack Holmes, 22. Tevita Kuridrani
15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Doug Tietjens, 6 James Haskell, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (captain)
Substitutes: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Buxton Popoali'i