The Brumbies’ Christian Lealiifano scores a try ahead of the Reds’ Will Genia
THE Brumbies withstood a fierce Queensland attacking onslaught for a gutsy 19-19 draw in a fiery and brutal Super Rugby showdown on Saturday night.
Queensland scored three tries to one at Suncorp Stadium but the Brumbies reclaimed the Rod Macqueen Cup as Christian Lealiifano scored all their points in an impressive audition for a Wallabies jersey.
Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg was also a star, laying the foundations for Lealiifano’s first-half try and also saving three Reds five-pointers with last-ditch tackles in the corner.
But it was the Brumbies nigh-on-impregnable defence which was the major factor in the result, holding out Queensland for sustained periods and twice when they were down to 14 men.
Leading 19-12, the visitors spent most of the closing stages on their own line as they kept coming up with desperate tackles but also infringing at the ruck and off-side.
In the end, Will Genia put Liam Gill over and Quade Cooper converted to tie the scores to set up a tense final four minutes which finished in anti-climax.
While Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen praised his side’s desperation, Reds captain James Horwill was disappointed with their below-par finishing.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Horwill said. “We didn’t execute well to get over the line.”
The draw means the pace-setting Brumbies move to 35 points at the top of the table, with the Reds remaining second on the standings on 33.
The much-hyped No.7 battle between George Smith and Gill also finished in a stalemate as both were among the best players for their teams.
There was little between the teams in the first half as the Reds created more chances but the Brumbies were better at reaping points from their opportunities to lead 13-7 at the break.
Twice, electric winger Rod Davies went inches from scoring following Digby Ioane busts while Queensland also failed to score a point despite immense pressure when Lealiifano was sin-binned for a professional foul.
The Reds attempted to play with width and adventure from the outset, and looked dangerous, but it was the Brumbies who jumped to a 6-0 lead after 10 minutes through two penalties to Lealiifano.
It a tale of the set pieces, the Brumbies scrum was largely dominant while the Queensland lineout ruled the roost and they scored their opening try through Jake Schatz at the back of an 11-man driving maul.
The Brumbies regained the lead when Lealiifano crossed in the 24th minute but he was yellow-carded for a professional foul on his own line soon after.
Cooper also impressed again and threw a perfect cut-out pass for Davies to finally score after the break for a 13-12 scoreline.
When Matt Toomua was replaced with a neck injury early in the second half, Lealiifano slipped into five-eighth and continued his goalkicking strike rate, booting two more penalties to finish with five from five.
EARLIER, the Crusaders inflicted more misery on the winless Highlanders with a 24-8 Super Rugby win at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.
Coming off last week’s upset 16-14 loss to the Western Force in Perth, the Crusaders rediscovered winning form to outmuscle a Highlanders outfit which has lost all eight games this season.
With a blustery wind at their backs, the Crusaders dominated the opening exchanges but just couldn’t convert a huge advantage in terms of territory and possession into points on the board.
The chances were there, but a combination of handling errors and some resolute Highlanders defence meant three Tyler Bleyendaal penalties were the only points on the board as halftime approached.
Zac Guildford came up short twice in the space of 10 minutes, bundled into touch by Ma’a Nonu as he dived over in the corner after 27 minutes before spilling a tricky pass from Israel Dagg with the tryline open.
However, centre Robbie Fruean finally broke through barely two minutes before the break, crashing over as the Crusaders shifted the ball wide from close range.
Bleyendaal added the extras and the home team took a 16-0 lead into halftime.
The Highlanders took just five minutes from the restart to open their account, halfback Aaron Smith setting up Manawatu teammate Jason Emery with a superb cut-out pass leaving him clear to dive over untouched in the corner.
The Highlanders continued to defend stoutly, fullback Ben Smith pulling off two try-saving tackles in rapid succession at the 56-minute mark when he hauled down halfback Andy Ellis then rampaging hooker Corey Flynn.
While the Highlanders’ defence was outstanding, they struggled at the set piece, with their malfunctioning lineout and patchy scrum continuing to keep them under pressure.
Tom Taylor underlined the win with a try in the 75th minute, finishing off 10 minutes of sustained Crusaders pressure when he touched down in the corner.
LATER on Saturday night, a late interception try by Willie le Roux ensured the Cheetahs beat the Sharks 12-6 in a Super Rugby match played in pouring rain at Durban.
Wing Le Roux pounced in the 78th minute to seal the Cheetahs’ victory with their second try at Kings Park, sending the South African-conference leading Sharks to a second straight defeat and strengthening the Cheetahs’ own playoff hopes with a sixth win in nine games.
Raymond Rhule, the Cheetahs’ other wing, put them ahead with his breakaway try and the game’s first score in the 33rd minute.
The Sharks closed to within a point with a penalty in each half by Pat Lambie before Le Roux’s score, but neither team conquered the conditions enough to produce any consistently good rugby.
THEN, the Bulls hammered the Southern Kings 34-0 in Super Rugby on Saturday, sealing a four-try bonus point with Akona Ndungane’s score in the last move of the game at Port Elizabeth.
The Bulls led 20-0 at halftime through tries by Jan Serfontein inside five minutes and Jano Vermaak in the 23rd.
But the three-time Super Rugby champions couldn’t add to that dominant lead until the 76th minute, when replacement Jacques Potgieter forced his way over.
Ndungane reached out for the fourth try after the final hooter sounded to complete a perfect night for the Bulls at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
They move above the Cheetahs and Sharks to top the South African conference, while tournament newcomers the Kings were jolted back to reality after a promising tour of Australia.