The Brumbies booked their place in the Super Rugby semi-finals with a 32-30 win against the Chiefs in Canberra, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
This was a thrilling qualifying play-off that could have gone either way, with both sides scoring four tries, including two against 14 men.
The hosts led 22-3 after half an hour but an excellent fightback from the back-to-back champions saw the scores locked at 25-25 with 14 minutes to go. Two more tries would be scored, with the difference proving to be Aaron Cruden's missed conversion.
It was Cruden who opened the scoring in this match with a penalty, but the Brumbies hit back with two tries in quick succession.
A strong run from Henry Speight got the hosts close, and they then sent the ball to the left, where Jesse Mogg was brought down just before the line. Tim Nanai-Williams was yellow-carded for a cynical infringement at the breakdown, which saw the Brumbies kick for the corner and set up a lineout driving maul, from which Nic White broke blind to score. Christian Leali'ifano nailed the touchline conversion.
A poor chip kick from Dwayne Sweeney was then collected by White, who found Mogg on his left. The fullback cut back inside past two defenders and offloaded in the tackle to Robbie Coleman, who dived over to make it 14-3 after 10 minutes.
The Brumbies continued to dominate possession, with a patient 16-phase attack at the start of the second quarter resulting in a try for Mogg in the left corner. Leali'ifano missed the conversion but slotted a penalty that extended the lead to 19.
Then came the Chiefs' comeback.
They enjoyed their best period of play towards the end of the half and were rewarded when Bundee Aki took a short pass and crashed over for a converted try.
Cruden and Leali'ifano exchanged penalties early in the second half, before Speight was sin-binned for a cynical infringement. The Chiefs opted to scrum from the penalty and Tawera Kerr-Barlow scored three phases later, with the Brumbies complaining that a player had been taken out off the ball.
Another try followed shortly afterwards, when an excellent inside pass from Cruden put Mike Fitzgerald into space, and he sent Nanai-Williams away to score in the right corner to level the scores.
The Brumbies responded with another try from a lineout driving maul, with Jarrad Butler getting over.
With five minutes to go, the Chiefs were awarded a penalty straight in front of the posts and opted for a scrum rather than the three points. It was a brave move that paid off when the ball went wide to Gareth Anscombe, who scored in the right corner.
Cruden, though, missed the touchline conversion, and the Chiefs were then penalised for not releasing the ball on the ground from the restart.
Leali'ifano missed the shot at goal, but it didn't matter as the Brumbies regained possession and put the ball into touch as soon as the full-time hooter sounded.
Brumbies – Tries: Nic White, Robbie Coleman, Jesse Mogg, Jarrad Butler. Conversions: Christian Leali'ifano (3). Penalties: Leali'ifano (2).
Chiefs – Tries: Bundee Aki, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Tim Nanai-Williams, Gareth Anscombe. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalties: Cruden (2).
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Leon Power, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Ruaidhri Murphy, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Joe Tomane, 23 Pat McCabe.
Chiefs – 15 Dwayne Sweeney, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Tom Marshall.
LEATHERMAN PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Henry Speight was sensational with ball in hand, making 140m from 13 carries, four clean breaks, and beating four defenders. Ewen McKenzie must be delighted that the Fijian-born winger becomes eligible to play for the Wallabies in September.
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