Brumbies snatch dramatic victory
February 21, 2009
The Brumbies' Mark Gerrard touches down for a crucial try in his side's dramatic victory over the Crusaders in Canberra
© Getty Images
A Stirling Mortlock conversion in injury time saw the Brumbies snatch an 18-16 Super 14 victory over a desperately unlucky Crusaders in Canberra.
The Wallabies veteran coolly slotted the conversion from a Mark Gerrard try with seconds remaining on the lock to deny an undermanned Crusaders whose watertight defence held for 79 minutes. The Brumbies hammered away at the visitors' line in the final 10 minutes but it looked like they'd held on when Clyde Rathbone was pulled down by three Crusaders tacklers just short.
But the hosts shifted the ball right and Gerrard jinked over out wide through two defenders, leaving Mortlock to do the rest. It was the nerveless Brumbies' second last-gasp victory in as many weeks after they denied the Highlanders 33-31 in Dunedin a week ago.
For the defending champions, missing injured key man Richie McCaw, Brad Thorn and Leon MacDonald, it was their first defeat of 2009 after a hard-fought 19-13 win over the Chiefs. They only had scraps of possession tonight but defended magnificently, with their two tries coming from an intercept and a chargedown.
The Crusaders arrived in Canberra with the rare underdogs tag, missing the combined 146 test caps of McCaw (concussion), Thorn (heel) and MacDonald (shoulder). In comparison the hosts -- who'd won their previous three home matches against the Crusaders -- were at full strength.
But the Crusaders deserved their 11-8 halftime lead playing into the wind as they rushed up and defended stoutly, scrummaged powerfully and took their few chances. The Crusaders scrum flexed its muscle early on when it shoved and twisted the Brumbies on their feed to earn the turnover.
After Colin Slade and Mark Gerrard traded penalties, a rare moment of madness from the Brumbies' test flanker George Smith gave the visitors their first try in the 18th minute. Smith gathered a loose ball on halfway but blindly offered a back-flip pass which Crusaders centre Casey Laulala gratefully accepted to race 50m. It was Laulala's third try in barely 100 minutes of Super 14 in 2009.
The Brumbies had to settle for kicking to the corners when they couldn't pierce the defence, but the Crusaders' lineout was equal to the task. Flanker George Whitelock, in for McCaw, was a notable presence alongside stand-in skipper Keiran Read as the visitors forced several first half turnovers. But after sustained pressure, Smith finally found a gaping hole one-off a ruck and sent Brumbies first five-eighth Christian Leali'ifano on a 20m dash to equalise.
The Crusaders also lost their All Blacks hooker Corey Flynn to injury late in the half, with draft player Jason Macdonald joining the fray. A penalty to replacement goalkicker Stephen Brett with a minute left in the half gave the Crusaders a three-point lead at the break.
The Crusaders' heavy defence continued to frustrate the Brumbies in the third quarter and, a minute after Mortlock levelled the scores with a long-range penalty, an error saw the visitors hit back. Leali'ifano's kick 30m from his own line was charged by Slade who was pulled down just short, but the Crusaders shifted it left and lock Ross Filipo crossed in the corner.
Brett missed the conversion but the Crusaders led 16-11 with 20 minutes left. But despite an impressive defensive stand they were unable to keep the hosts out.
Crusaders: Stephen Brett; Jared Payne, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Kade Poki; Colin Slade, Andy Ellis; Thomas Waldrom, George Whitelock, Kieran Read (captain), Ross Filipo, Isaac Ross, Ben Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: Jason Macdonald, Bronson Murray, Michael Paterson, Nasi Manu, Kahn Fotuali'I, Ryan Crotty, Adam Whitelock.
Brumbies: Mark Gerrard; Clyde Rathbone, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stirling Mortlock, Francis Fainifo; Christian Lealiifano, Patrick Phibbs, Stephen Hoiles (captain), George Smith, George Smith, Julian Salvi, Mark Chisholm, Ben Hand, Guy Shepherson, Stephen Moore, Nic Henderson.
Replacements: John Ulugia, Ben Alexander, Sitaleki Timani, Peter Kimlin, Joshua Holmes, Tyrone Smith, Matt Toomua, Shawn Mackay, Mitchell Chapman.