Brumbies edge Chiefs at the last
March 26, 2010
George who? Smith's replacement Michael Hooper grabbed an early try
© Getty Images
The Brumbies' lesser lights shone brightest as they edged out the Chiefs 30-23 in a thriller at Canberra Stadium on Friday night.
The hosts had a Matt Toomua try with two minutes to go to thank for the victory while Michael Hooper - replacing George Smith in his first game missed in five years - earlier scored on debut.
Scrum-half Josh Valentine was the other try-scorer for the Brumbies while his opposite number Brendon Leonard and Richard Kahui touched down for the Chiefs.
Julian Huxley made a terrific impact on his return to rugby after leaving the game for treatment on a brain tumour two years ago. The Brumbies fullback received a standing ovation when he came on in the first half - much earlier than anticipated - to replace Francis Fainifo, who has a suspected broken leg.
With the score at 23-20 in the Chiefs' favour in the second half, the Brumbies camped in the New Zealand side's 22 for a full 15 minutes but couldn't capitalise and eventually settled for a Matt Giteau penalty to level scores.
But a Chiefs error allowed Toomua to cross in the 78th minute, sending the Brumbies into the top four and relegating the Chiefs to midtable obscurity at the halfway point.
As early as the sixth minute the Chiefs blew what could have been try of the season when they went forward, spun the ball wide left, then supported superbly with five inside passes before Liam Messam dropped the ball over the try line.
Valentine made no mistake three minutes later after Giteau, Stirling Mortlock and Adam Ashley-Cooper combined to put Pat McCabe through a gap and the No.9 backed up well inside to score under the posts. Huxley then came on and inspired the hosts to continue the early scoring, this time after fellow replacement Patrick Phibbs ran around the back of the attacking line-out and through a gaping hole before handing it off to give Hooper the easiest of debut tries in the 14th minute.
Stephen Donald's boot brought the Chiefs back within range as both sides failed to grab a stranglehold on the contest, but with halftime looming Leonard touched down after consecutive busts through the middle gave the big No.9 room to move. Giteau notched a late penalty to nudge the Brumbies back ahead 17-16 at the break, a critical score in the grand scheme of things.
The Brumbies looked to attack down both wings early in the second period, but that strategy backfired when Mortlock's poor kick on the halfway line went straight into Sitiveni Sivivatu's legs. The Chiefs scrambled quickly and Tanerau Latimer put Kahui in down the line to score.
Latimer then turned villain as his silly penalty from the restart allowed Giteau to bring the Brumbies back within three. The game soon settled into a pattern of utter dominance for the home team, with the Brumbies trying their hand at six scrums on the Chiefs' line. In what may become known as the siege of Canberra, the Chiefs somehow held on through 15 full minutes of relentless pressure.
The Brumbies didn't give the backs a chance in that period, and the frustrated Giteau had to settle for three points from the kicking tee with nine minutes left. The Chiefs looked to hold on for a deserved draw but yet another scrum, this time from their own feed, was their undoing.
The ball came loose and Rocky Elsom cleared out replacement scrum-half Junior Poluleuligaga - perhaps illegally - from the first breakdown, allowing Phibbs to seize possession and put Toomua under the posts.