Brumbies still breathing in semi race

A 31-3 bonus-point victory over the Highlanders kept the Brumbies in contention for a play-off place.

The Brumbies entered this contest aware that anything but a bonus-point victory would seriously undermine their push for the play-offs.

They certainly made heavy work of it, Matt Toomua scoring their fourth try in the last minute of the match, but the record books will reflect a crucial win, not the nature thereof.

A lesser side would have shelved their traditional strength in pursuit of the prize, in the Brumbies’ case that being a high-tempo, multi-phase approach. However, the Brumbies never succumbed in that manner, although they were hardly clinical.

The Highlanders simply couldn’t live with the pace and intensity of the Brumbies’ attacking play, and indeed the physicality and organisation of their defence. The sheer number of tackles they were required to make depleted their defence and, eventually, their resolve.

The hosts hit with a left-right combination within 20 minutes, Rocky Elsom rumbling over for the first and Salesi Ma’afu finishing an 11-phase move that was birthed in their own 22m. Giteau converted both tries for a 14-0 lead.

Having rarely progressed beyond their half in the first quarter, the Highlanders managed to exert a sustained period of pressure on the Brumbies, but basic handling errors and some poor decision making in dangerous positions robbed them of the opportunity of scoring a try.

Giteau and Israel Dagg traded penalties just before half-time, the Brumbies leading 17-3.

Any ambitions the Highlanders may have haboured of a dramatic comeback were doused when Matt Toomua put a mesmerising step on the defence and some superb support play crafted a try for Josh Valentine. Giteau added the extras while referee Chis Pollock compounded the Highlanders’ woes by binning Dagg for repeated cynical play.

But the Brumbies were laboured and failed to capitalise on their advantage. They did, however, shake off their lethargy going into the final ten minutes, reverting to a tighter attack, and were twice denied the decisive try.

Tyrone Smith then coughed up the ball 5m short of the tryline after a scintillating break; and one wondered whether the Brumbies would be the architects of their own demise. However, Toomua’s sniping step and dash for the line salvaged the result and allowed his team-mates, the coaching staff and their supporters to breathe a massive sigh of relief.

There’s still work to be done, and a final round fixture against the Crusaders, who themselves are in search of a semi-final place; in Christchurch is one of the game’s hardest tasks.

By Ryan Vrede