Brumbies edge closer to the play-offs
The Brumbies ended a 10-year drought in Sydney when they edged the Waratahs 19-15 in their Super Rugby encounter on Saturday.
It means the Brumbies, who have not won in Sydney since 2002, are now just one point away from topping the Australian conference and making their first appearance in the play-offs since 2004.
It was not a match of high standards, but given what was at stake for the Brumbies, they will be happy to have come away from this borefest with four points in the bag.
The Waratahs played with some freedom, knowing the result meant nothing to them, whereas the Brumbies were more circumspect and a touch nervous.
Other aspects of the Brumbies' game that didn't function very well were the set pieces, especially in the scrums - where they were repeatedly penalised late in the first half, after coming under increasing pressure.
There was plenty of endeavour in the early stages, but the execution and accuracy lacked on both sides - leading to a beaucoup of errors.
The first real scoring opportunity of the match came in the 12th minute - when Tahs captain Benn Robinson went offside at a tackle and Zack Holmes slotted the resulting penalty to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
When Tatafu Polota-Nau flopped on a ruck with total disregard for the laws, Jesse Mogg made it 6-0 in the 24th minute - from about 40 metres on the angle.
Polota-Nau made up for his earlier indiscretion when he flopped over the line on the half-hour mark - after the Waratahs kept banging away at the Brumbies line, following a number of penalties and scrums for infringements by the visitors. Berrick Barnes failed to add the extras, but the Tahs were on the board - 5-6.
Mogg had a chance to extend the lead three minutes from the break, following another transgression at the breakdown by the Tahs, but this time he was just wide of the upright.
However, when Rob Horne penalised at the tackle just outside his 22, Holmes slotted the penalty to give his team a 9-5 lead at the break.
The second half got off much in the same way as the first did - plenty of action, but with poor execution and transgressions at the breakdown.
Ten minutes into the half Barnes narrowed the gap to just one point, 8-9, after the Brumbies were penalised for the umpteenth time at the breakdown - having conceded double the number of penalties the Tahs did at this stage.
Three minutes later Adam Ashley-Cooper was penalised for a high tackle deep inside his half and Holmes took aim at the posts, but he was well wide to the right.
Jesse Mogg continued the penalty trend at the breakdown, but this time the Waratahs set up a line-out deep inside the Brumbies' 22. And Berrick Barnes managed to swivel over, after first running into the upright, after the Tahs took the ball through a few pick-'n-go phases. Barnes added the extras and the home teak hit the lead for the first time just on the hour mark.
This seemed to awoke the slumbering Brumbies, with wing Henry Speight going over for their opening try - set up by a well-weighted floating pass from Zack Holmes. And Holmes added the conversion to put the Brumbies back in front - 16-15, with about 18 minutes left on the clock.
Chris Alcock was penalised minutes later for 'not maintaining his own bodyweight' at a ruck and Holmes again stepped up - slotting the kick from about 35 metres on the angle to stretch the lead to 19-15.
The Brumbies continued to concede breakdown penalties and the Tahs used one of these to set up a line-out five metres out. However, two quick phases and they turned the ball over, allowing the visitors to clear their lines.
With 10 minutes left on the clock Peter Kimlin was penalised for a high tackle just inside his own half and replacement scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin stepped up. However, he was well wide from about 49 metres out.
The Waratahs had their chances in those last 10 minutes, but their error count continued to mount in a match of rapidly decreasing standards of execution.
It allowed the Brumbies to hold on for a win that means they are just one point away from securing first place in the Aussie conference and a spot in the play-offs.
Man of the match: Brumbies captain Ben Mowen and flank Michael Hooper, as always, worked hard throughout the game - with Mowen producing some strong runs, making good ground with the ball in hand. Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau was always strong in carrying the ball up. However, our award goes to Tahs centre Berrick Barnes, who not only showed good hands, but produced some delightful stepping as well. His team may not have won, but he managed to keep them in touch throughout.
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Polota-Nau, Barnes
For the Brumbies:
Pens: Holmes 3, Mogg
Waratahs: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson (captain).
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Tom Carter, 22 Tom Kingston.
Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Jesse Mogg, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Leon Power, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Cam Crawford.
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Julian Pritchard (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)