Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Brumbies beat the Blues in Super 12 action down under

AP , CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA

It didn't take long for the form guide to get turned upside down in the Super 12 rugby union tournament.

On the opening weekend, the ACT Brumbies, winless in three preseason matches, upset 2003 champions Auckland Blues 44-27 with three second-half tries Saturday at Canberra.

Mat Rogers scored 26 points to lead the New South Wales Waratahs to a 43-19 upset win over the Canterbury Crusaders. The last time the Waratahs played at Christchurch's Jade Stadium in 2002, they were beaten 96-19.

Perennial underdogs Waikato Chiefs, the sad sacks of New Zealand's five Super 12 franchises, upset more fancied North Island rivals Wellington 19-7.

And the Sharks upset the favored Bulls 23-18 at Pretoria only three months after the Bulls crushed the Sharks in their provincial disguises in the Currie Cup final.

Stephen Larkham put ACT into the lead three minutes into the second half after the teams were level 20-20 at halftime. Flying high over Doug Howlett, Latham grabbed the ball and crashed down to give ACT the lead.

The Brumbies took control, and even a 55th-minute try to Keven Mealamu that tied it 27-27 couldn't stop the second-half Brumbies' surge.

Playing without the sin-binned George Smith, the Brumbies turned the game with a 10-minute period in which they dominated the Blues at the ruck.

Jeremy Paul backed up Joe Roff in the 68th minute to regain the lead 34-27, and they put the game away just three minutes later.

Trying to run the ball off his own line, Auckland winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca threw a pass to avoid going over the sideline. Matt Giteau intercepted and he raced away to score the clinching try.

ACT coach David Nucifora said the Brumbies can't read too much into the upset win.

"We've certainly still got a lot of improvement left in us," said Nucifora. "You can't peak in week one and win this competition."

At Christchurch, fullback Rogers maintained a perfect kicking record, converting the Waratahs' four tries and adding five penalties in addition to his own try.

The Waratahs' win was achieved against a Canterbury side which has won three recent Super 12 titles, were finalists last year, and whose starting side included 11 World Cup All Blacks.

"The first game of the season is desperately important, especially so when it's an away game," said Waratahs captain Chris Whittaker. "We got a hiding here a couple of years ago. I guess we buried a few demons today."

Playing in front of new All Blacks coach Graham Henry at Hamilton, the Chiefs scored 13 points against the wind in the second half to overturn the Hurricanes' 7-6 halftime lead.

Flyhalf Glen Jackson kicked four penalties from five attempts and replacement flanker Sione Lauaki scored a lone try to deny the favored Hurricanes a consolation bonus point.

"We had a lot of possession in the first half but we couldn't get the points to go with it and that's what came back to bite us in the end," said Hurricanes captain Tana Umaga.

The Chiefs, who have been the worst-performed of New Zealand's five Super 12 franchises, are seen as the team most likely to be axed if the Super 12 is restructured in coming seasons.

Captain Jono Gibbes said they played with that possibility in mind.

"We've had a bit of baggage in our past but we wanted to go out and just play for ourselves and get a win," said Gibbes.

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