The Brumbies won the Australian conference and secured a home quarter-final by beating the Force 24-10 in Canberra on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
Needing just a single log point to finish ahead of the Waratahs, who lost to the Blues in Auckland on Friday, the Brumbies secured four to take their season tally to 43. That sees them top the Australian conference and finish second in the Australasian group, despite having fewer log points than the Highlanders (52), Chiefs (51) and Crusaders (50). The Brumbies will therefore host the Highlanders in a quarter-final next Friday.
After the high provided by two cracking Kiwi derbies earlier in the day, this Aussie derby was always going to be a big comedown. The first half at least provided four tries, but neither team was able to add to its tally in a coma-inducing second half.
Following a forgettable first 15 minutes, the match briefly came to life when the Force lost possession and Tomás Cubelli kicked the loose ball ahead. The scrumhalf did well to regain possession and get a pass away to Matt Toomua, who was held up over the tryline by Dane Haylett-Petty. The Brumbies then earned a penalty from the resultant scrum, which Christian Leali'ifano sent through the posts.
The hosts extended their lead to 10 in the 26th minute when an inside ball from Cubelli put Nigel Ah Wong into space. The wing was ankle-tapped but still able to offload to Aidan Toua, who put Toomua over for the first try of the match.
The Force responded well, with an Ian Prior penalty followed by a converted try to Ben Tapuai. The midfielder picked up a loose ball after a poor grubber kick from the Force and raced 60m to score.
The Brumbies' next attack ended with Kuridrani being held up over the tryline, but the hosts got the seven points when a strong scrum saw them awarded a penalty try.
The Force thought they had levelled the scores again, when Dane Haylett-Petty kicked into the Brumbies' 22 and the ball bounced into the hands of the chasing Kyle Godwin, who went over for what he and his teammates thought was a try. But after watching several replays, the TMO ruled that Godwin had been just ahead of the kicker.
The Brumbies then struck a big blow after the half-time hooter when Kuridrani handed off Ross Haylett-Petty and scored under the posts to make it 24-10.
The less said about the second half, the better.
With both sides turning to their bench, the game entered a lull that continued until the final whistle, which must have been music to the ears of the 9,300 fans at Canberra Stadium.
Brumbies – Try: Matt Toomua, penalty try, Tevita Kuridrani. Conversions: Christian Leali'ifano (3). Penalty: Leali'ifano.
Force – Try: Ben Tapuai. Conversion: Ian Prior. Penalty: Prior.
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Christian Leali'ifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 1Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Blake Enever, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Lausii Taliauli.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Luke Morahan (c), 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Rory Walton, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Guy Millar, 2 Harry Scoble, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Semisi Masirewa.
Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images