A field goal by Christian Lealiifano a minute from time saw the ACT Brumbies snatch a dramatic victory over the Otago Highlanders 33-31 to open the Super 14 season yesterday.
It was the second year in a row the Brumbies have beaten the Highlanders by two points as they were rewarded for the faith they’ve placed in the drop-goal as a weapon in their armory.
In a see-sawing game in which both sides took four-try bonus points, the Highlanders raced to a 19-0 lead in the first 20 minutes.
But at no stage did they look to be in control and the Brumbies fought their way back with 30 unanswered points before the Highlanders staged a late revival.
Two tries in the last 10 minutes put the home side in front again before Lealiifano settled the outcome.
The Highlanders opened up with tries by Jason Shoemark, Fetu’u Vainikolo and a brilliant solo effort by Daniel Bowden.
From a lineout on the Highlanders’ 22, Bowden put in a chipkick, fielded the ball and raced more than 70m to score.
The Brumbies gathered momentum with Lealiifano calmly setting up Stirling Mortlock and Adam Ashley-Cooper outside him.
Mortlock scored first, cutting back on the angle from a scrum, while a conversion and penalty from Mark Gerrard had the Brumbies narrowing the gap to 10-19 at the turn.
The second half started as the first half ended with the Brumbies pinning the Highlanders on their line and Mortlock crashing over for his second try less that two minutes after the restart.
A Lealiifano break sent Ashley-Cooper over, Gerrard followed by crashing through three tackles to score and 14 minutes into the second half the Brumbies were up 30-19.
It was enough to spark a Highlanders revival and after 15 minutes of plugging away at the Brumbies’ line, and turning around lopsided territory statistics, they were rewarded with a try by Chris King.
They swept back on attack and were immediately rewarded with a try from Jason Rutledge to regain the lead 31-30 with Bowden’s conversion attempt going just wide.
He would rue the miss minutes later when Lealiifano sealed the outcome.
Meanwhile, the Auckland Blues ran over the top of the Western Force to notch a gritty 25-19 win in their Super 14 clash at Subiaco Oval last night.
The Blues conceded the first two tries of the game and trailed 14-8 at the break, but produced a three-try burst into a strong breeze after half-time to foil the home side, despite losing a couple of key players to injury during the match.