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A master-class from Henry Speight has handed the UC Brumbies a nail-biting, 32-30 win over the Chiefs in Canberra in what shaped as one of the most exhilarating games of the 2014 Super Rugby season.
Speight commanded attention from the outset, with more than 180 running metres – the majority of which came from the opening 10 minutes when he’d managed as many carries.
Backing the Fijian flyer up was a pack which refused to say die, took all of its chances and handed the UC Brumbies back-three with ample opportunity to set up a memorable win.
Man-of-the-Match Jarrad Butler was also outstanding, as was hooker Josh Mann-Rea, lock Sam Carter and scrumhalf Nic White. And when the starting side was given a breather, the bench players stood tall – the likes of Pat McCabe, Fotu Auelua, Joe Tomane and Ruaidhri Murphy busting into the game and making real impact for the win.
Skipper Ben Mowen, playing in his 50th game, also had a blinder and rated the team’s performance as one of the best he’d been involved in since 2012.
“I have the feeling that that’s our best performances in the last three years. With the ups and downs of the game, when we had the ball we took points at every opportunity,” Mowen said.
“If it was the same team playing three or four weeks ago we may have played a bit more conservatively but we were willing to run it and made the most our chances.
“It was always going to be an 80 minutes game. It was never going to be a 60 minute effort, they are a side which in the last three years has won two championships and been involved in this Finals series so they were never going to go away.”
The 2014 Super Rugby Final replay had a little bit of everything. Long range tries, unrelenting forwards play and touches of controversy.
Despite and early three points to Aaron Cruden, a yellow card in the sixth minute to his teammate Tim Nanai-Williams put the Chiefs on the back foot, with the UC Brumbies outside backs looking unstoppable in space.
After trucking the ball up field it was White who claimed the first try, spotting open space on the blind-side of a ruck about 10 metres from the line, dummying to Robbie Coleman before launching over to score.
Coleman extended his lead as the club’s top try-scorer to eight with a superb backing up effort just two minutes later. The winger collected a short ball from Jesse Mogg who connected with White in space to create the opportunity.
With the conversion over, the UC Brumbies were in complete control, leading 14-3 after just nine minutes.
The UC Brumbies third try of the first half went to Mogg on the short side, the Greyhound gassed the right winger to score in the corner. The kick was wide but the UC Brumbies were still scoring at will, leading 19-3 after 22 minutes.
Keeping their foot on the throat Lealiifano added another three just five minutes later, but his penalty signalled a swing in momentum for the Chiefs, who put together almost 10 minutes of continuous pressure within the UC Brumbies 22.
Knocking back three chances for points from right in front the Chiefs signalled they had come to play. Eventually the pressure of a mid-field scrum, two five-metre lineouts, a chip over the top and more than 30 phases gave way and inside centre Bundee Aki dove over from close range. Cruden converted and the Chiefs had narrowed the gap to 22-10 going to half time.
Penalties were traded by both teams to bring the score to 25-13, but Chiefs fans wiped their brow as Speight was sent to the bin with half an hour to play, the visitors coming into their own.
Australian-born and raised Tawera Kerr-Barlow took immediate advantage of the lopsided numbers, reaching over next to the uprights to give Cruden an easy shot and make it 20-25.
Momentum totally on their side, the Chiefs drew level 25-25 with their second try of the half, Asaieli Tikoirotuma seizing an overlap chance to dart over in the right corner.
But with Speight back on the field, the UC Brumbies rallied, a penalty, five-metre lineout and huge driving maul putting Jarrad Butler over for his first career try. The conversion went over and the UC Brumbies led by seven with 15 minutes to play, 32-25
The Chiefs again came back with a try in the corner to Gareth Anscombe, but Cruden couldn’t convert to draw level with the UC Brumbies who clung on to win, 32-30.
The UC Brumbies will now wait to see the result of the second Qualifier to realise whether they face the Waratahs or Crusaders next weekend.
UC Brumbies 32 (Nic White, Robbie Coleman, Jesse Mogg, Jarrad Butler tries; Christian Lealiifano 3 conversions, 3 penalties) bt Chiefs 30 (Bundee Aki, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Tim Nanai-Williams, Gareth Anscombe tries; Aaron Cruden 2 conversions, 2 penaltlies) at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night. Referee: Craig Joubert. Crowd: 14,284.
1. Scott Sio (replaced by Allan Alaalatoa)
2. Josh Mann-Rea (replaced by Ruaidhri Murphy)
3. Ben Alexander
4. Sam Carter
5. Leon Power (replaced by Fotu Auelua)
6. Scott Fardy
7. Jarrad Butler
8. Ben Mowen (c)
9. Nic White
10. Matt Toomua
11. Robbie Coleman (replaced by Joe Tomane)
12. Christian Lealiifano
13. Tevita Kuridrani
14. Henry Speight
15. Jesse Mogg (replaced by Pat McCabe)
16. Ruaidhri Murphy
17. Ruan Smith
18. Allan Alaalatoa
19. Fotu Auelua
20. Tom McVerry
21. Michael Dowsett
22. Joe Tomane
23. Pat McCabe