The Brumbies soaked up the pressure applied by an error-ridden Waratahs outfit to score a scratchy but nonetheless crucial 19-15 Super Rugby win in Sydney on Saturday night.
The victory virtually assures the Brumbies of the Australian conference title.
By breaking a 10-year drought in the city, the Brumbies moved five points clear of the Reds at the top of the conference. The Reds can still win it if they get a full house of five points from their last game, but it will mean that the Brumbies have to be well beaten when they host the Blues in Canberra next weekend and not pick up even a solitary bonus point.
If that unlikely eventuality occurs, the Reds will advance because of superior number of victories – both teams have 10 at the moment – but the Brumbies look like they have picked up a winning habit as this was a game they really should have lost.
The Waratahs dominated the collisions for most of the way, and the Brumbies looked a bit off their game, with the accuracy of some of their more recent performances being notably absent.
The Waratahs will kick themselves for not making the most of their ascendancy in terms of both possession and territory in the first half, where they spent a lot of time bashing away at the Brumbies line without reward.
They did outscore the Brumbies by two tries to one, and looked like they had worn the Brumbies down when Berrick Barnes swiveled over off the post to dot down for the second with 25 minutes remaining.
The attacking position had been set up by a good penalty kick from Barnes into the corner, and then some impressive pick-and-go rugby from the Waratahs near the Brumbies line.
The try and conversion put them in the lead for the first time in the game at 15-9, and as they had been pressing for a long time before that, you might have assumed the Waratahs would take control.
But that reasoning reckoned without an excellent loop pass from Brumbies flyhalf Zack Holmes that gave wing Henry Speight the modicum of space he needed to build momentum and go over in the corner.
The conversion from Holmes reclaimed the lead (16-15) with 18 minutes to go, and Jessie Mogg extended their lead five minutes later as the Brumbies played their best rugby of the match going into the last quarter.
The Waratahs had their opportunities to challenge, none more so than when they set up a lineout on the corner flag with 10 minutes to go, but they fluffed it through an unforced error that allowed the Brumbies’ Nick White to clear the line.
UNFORCED HANDLING ERRORS
Later on they also produced a few really poor unforced handling errors that prevented them from finding the attacking momentum they needed, and it allowed the jittery Brumbies, who looked nervous for much of the way, to survive.
The trend for the match was set in the first half when the Brumbies kicked two penalties, one by Holmes and the other a long-range effort from Holmes, even though the Waratahs had enjoyed the better of the game.
The Waratahs eschewed kickable penalties that cost them but they finally got on the board in the 30th minute when hooker Totaful Polota-Nau forced his way over the line after an extended sequence of pick and drives.
Barnes though missed a regulation conversion and it summed up the Waratahs’ game and their season.
It was a night of breaking new ground for the Brumbies for not only was it their first win in Sydney since 2002, it was also the first time that the franchise had won five consecutive away matches, a statistic that is a massive tribute to the ability of their former Springbok coach Jake White.
The way they are racking up the wins, don’t bet against them surprising a few people during the knock-out phase.
And if the Stormers go walkabout over the next few weeks, they may even go straight into the semifinal round and bypass the wildcard stage as they have the same number of log points at the moment as the Stormers, though the Cape team have a match later on Saturday against the Cheetahs to come and will advance by virtue of their superior number of wins should the teams end up in a tie.
Waratahs – Tries: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Berrick Barnes. Conversion: Barnes. Penalty: Barnes.
Brumbies – Try: Henry Speight. Conversion: Zack Holmes. Penalties: Holmes (2), Jesse Mogg (2).