George Gregan and Stephen Larkham were at their devastating best on Saturday as the Brumbies smashed the Cheetahs 53-20 in Canberra. The home side led 18-13 at half-time.
The Wallaby halfbacks turned back the clock to entrench the Brumbies’ position in the top four of the Vodacom Super 14 and keep their hopes of a home semi-final alive. The demoralised Cheetahs now head to Christchurch for a daunting fixture against the champion Crusaders who are unbeaten after eight matches.
The Cheetahs were accused of slowing down their match against the Waratahs last weekend, but the Brumbies prevented a similar situation by playing the game at pace. New Zealand referee Steve Walsh also played his part by strictly policing the breakdown and refusing to allow lengthy injury breaks.
Stephen Larkham controlled the game for the Brumbies at flyhalf, off-loading to his loose forwards who sucked in Cheetahs defenders, before sending the ball out wide. His accurate tactical kicking also kept the visitors pinned inside their own half, especially during the opening quarter when the game was tight.
Matt Giteau, playing his first Super 14 match since picking up an injury at the Commonwealth Games, marked his return with a 15-point haul and his influence in midfield cannot be overestimated. Stirling Mortlock continued his impressive season on Giteau’s outside with several incisive runs, although his niggling groin injury prevented him from kicking at goal.
The Cheetahs have done well with their limited resources this year, but on Saturday they were out-thought by a team filled with playmakers. Coach Rassie Erasmus rotated his front-rowers and brought Willem de Waal on for Meyer Bosman in a desperate attempt to turn things around, but the visitors were blown away in the second half, conceding five tries.
It was Giteau who opened the Brumbies’ account with a penalty, before adding a five-pointer from a slick Brumbies attack. George Smith took the ball at first receiver and found Larkham who ghosted his way through the smallest of gaps before off-loading to a grateful Giteau.
The Cheetahs worked their way back into the Brumbies’ 22 and were awarded a penalty that Bosman would have kicked with his eyes closed. However, winger Giscard Pieters took the quick tap and possession was turned over.
Pieters went from zero to hero minutes later when he ran onto the ball at an angle – a rare feat for a South African back – went inside a bamboozled Larkham and rounded Giteau to score under the posts. Bosman converted to make it a one-point ball game.
Giteau and Pieters then exchanged penalties, before George Gregan sent Michael Claassens the wrong way with a superb dummy to score his first five-pointer of the Super 14 season. Bosman pulled three points back for the Cheetahs with a penalty on the half-time hooter to make it 18-13.
Gregan sparked his side’s third try soon after the break when he tapped a penalty inside his own half, ran through the retreating Cheetahs defence and gained 35m. The ball then went left to Larkham who sent the grubber through for left wing Mark Gerrard. Giteau’s conversion gave the home side a 12-point lead with half an hour to play and the game was all but over.
Fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper butchered a try when he failed to ground the ball, but the Brumbies secured the bonus point when hooker Jeremy Paul was driven over from a line-out.
Paul then grabbed his second after an inside pass from Larkham, before George Smith went over in the left-hand corner.
Ronnie Cooke scored a consolation try for the Cheetahs after a counter-attack that began from their own tryline, but Clyde Rathbone took the home side past the 50-point mark when he brushed off Kabamba Floors’s desperate tackle just before full-time.
Brumbies – Tries: Matt Giteau, George Gregan, Mark Gerrard, Jeremy Paul (2), George Smith, Clyde Rathbone. Conversions: Matt Giteau (2), Stirling Mortlock, Gerrard (3). Penalties: Giteau (2).
Cheetahs – Tries: Giscard Pieters, Ronnie Cooke. Conversions: Meyer Bosman, Willem de Waal. Penalty: Bosman.
By Simon Borchardt
Moments that mattered:
78min – Rathbone brushes off Floors’s tackle to bring up the Brumbies 50. Gerrard converts (3/3).
75min – Cooke scores after a Cheetahs attack that began inside their 22. De Waal converts (1/1).
70min – Smith scores another try for the Brumbies. This is turning into a thrashing. Gerrard converts (2/2).
65min – Paul grabs his second after an inside pass from Larkham. Gerrad converts (1/1).
60min – Paul is driven over from a line-out for the Brumbies’ fourth try. Mortlock converts (1/1).
54min – Ashley-Cooper butchers a try when he fails to ground the ball over the line.
44min – Gerrard scores after a clever grubber through the Cheetahs defence. Giteau converts (4/5).
41min – Liebenberg goes down in agony after colliding with Mortlock, but gets back up to his feet.
40min – Penalty Bosman (3/3).
34min – Gregan scores the Brumbies second try, after throwing a great dummy that sends Claassens the wrong way. Giteau converts (3/4).
30min – Penalty Bosman (2/2).
28min – Penalty Giteau (2/3).
24min – Pieters makes up for his blunder by going inside Larkham and outside Giteau to score the Cheetahs’ first try. Bosman converts (1/1).
20min – The Cheetahs are awarded a penalty right in front, 10m out, but Pieters takes the quick tap and the ball’s turned over. Moronic play from the winger.
19min – Cheetahs go wide at last, Cooke breaks free and finds Fortuin, who’s taken out on the Brumbies 22m line.
16min – Giteau scores the first try after Larkham ghosts through a gap in the Cheetahs defence who are confused by the dummy runner. Giteau misses the conversion (1/2).
10min – Zweni comes in from the wrong side and is penalised. Referee Walsh gives the Cheetahs a warning, and says Viljoen was also offsides earlier in the move. The Brumbies find touch 5m out from the tryline, but the Cheetahs steal the line-out.
3min – The Brumbies enter the Cheetahs’ 22 for the first time and are awarded a penalty from right in front. Giteau (1/1).
2min – The Cheetahs bash it up, but eventually give possesion away with a poor grubber.