Veteran George Smith produced an openside flanker master class as the ACT Brumbies beat the Highlanders 30-12 in Super Rugby yesterday, extending the Highlanders’ winless start to the season to a record seven games.
The 32-year-old Smith, who ended his international career after 110 Tests, scored a try, forced a number of critical turnovers, led a valiant defense and used the experience garnered in a 13-year professional career to lift the Brumbies to their sixth win in eight matches.
The win sent the Canberra-based side to the top of the championship table, ahead of today’s match between the previously first-placed Chiefs and the Queensland Reds. The Brumbies also extended their lead over the Reds in the Australian conference to seven points.
Smith scored the second of the Brumbies’ three tries in their first match at Dunedin’s enclosed international stadium.
Winger Henry Speight scored the first in the third minute, Smith added his in the 31st minute and Joe Tomane scored the last in the 53rd minute as the Brumbies’ lead peaked at 30-12.
All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith came off the bench to inject a little life into a listless Highlanders side and scooted between defenders to score a consolation try for the home side in the 76th.
Brumbies flyhalf Christian Leali’ifano was successful with his first five shots at goal — three conversions and a penalty — but missed his last penalty to end on 99 points, missing the chance to become the first player to reach 100 points this season.
Young flyhalf Hayden Parker, the Highlanders’ third string, marked his first start in Super Rugby by landing four penalties and the conversion of Smith’s try in a flawless goalkicking performance.
After Speight stepped superbly through the tackles of Hosea Gear and Ben Smith to score the opening try, and Leali’ifano landed goals to give the Brumbies a 10-0 lead in the fifth minute, Parker kicked three penalties to cut the lead to one point.
George Smith’s try was a gamebreaker, reestablishing a margin the Highlanders were not able to contain.
The Brumbies won ball from an attacking line, mounted a drive and Smith took the ball and dashed through tackles to score a fine try.
Scrumhalf Nic White landed a long-range penalty to give the Brumbies a 20-12 lead early in the second half, while Tomane’s try, from a turnover, clinched the win.
The video referee took several minutes to confirm the try, while he previously disallowed a try to Gear in the 36th minute, which might have altered the course of the match.