2/18/2006

Miracle at Loftus


As if playing to a Hollywood script, the CA Brumbies have recorded an incredible last ditch 27-21 victory over the Bulls at a near-capacity Loftus Versfeld, scoring on the stroke of full-time to hand foundation player Stephen Larkham the perfect gift in his 100th Super Rugby match.


Trailing 21-20 after Bulls flyhalf Derick Hougaard slotted his third penalty goal of 50+ metres, Brumbies skipper Stirling Mortlock crashed over the try line as the full-time siren sounded, providing one of the most memorable victories in the team's eleven-year history.


A hostile crowd of well in excess of 40,000 Bulls fans greeted the Brumbies at Loftus Versfeld, where the Canberra-based team have only managed to win twice since Super 12 began in 1996.


To make matters worse, a fired-up Bulls outfit started in a flurry of bash and barge, immediately gaining the ascendency through their monstrous forward pack, who paved the way for Derrick Hougaard and his incredible boot to have the visitors under enormous pressure early in the match.


The Bulls skipped to a 3-0 lead when Hougaard hit his first penalty goal in the seventh minute; a physical opening twenty minutes taking its toll on the Brumbies, with two players taking heavy knocks.


Clyde Rathbone was dazed after a colliding with a charging Danie Rossouw, before prop Nic Henderson was taken from the field after being heavily concussed in a clash with Bulls giant Bakkies Botha in the twentieth minute.


After weathering the initial physical barrage from the Bulls forwards, the Brumbies settled into the match and hit back with a penalty goal to level the scores in the 21st minute.


The Bulls however regained the lead when Derrick Hougaard hit his second penalty, this one from 52m out, and followed it with another from the same distance to give the Bulls a 9-3 advantage after 26 minutes.


Then in the 32nd minute a piece of individual brilliance from inside centre Matt Giteau handed the Brumbies the first five-pointer of the match.


Receiving the ball in a backline move, Giteau drifted across field, slicing through two Bulls defenders before drawing the fullback to send Clyde Rathbone over for a try in the right corner.


Mortlock coverted from the sideline to give the Brumbies a 10-9 lead, however as the half-time siren sounded, Hougaard regained the lead for the Bulls with a perfectly struck drop goal attempt from 40m out.


Trailing by two points at the break, the Brumbies were the first out of the blocks in the second half when Mortlock kicked his second penalty goal just two minutes in to the second stanza.


The Brumbies dominated field territory and possession and had started to exploit some holes in the Bulls defence.


The see-sawing affair continued when Hougaard converted yet another penalty goal, regaining the lead for Bulls 15-13 in the 50th minute.


Four minutes later the Brumbies answered in style. Adam Ashley-Cooper made a driving 20m run to put the Brumbies on the attack, before Rathbone and Mortlock combined to move the ball close to the line on the right hand side.


From there, the ball was shifted back to the left where the Bulls were short on numbers, before flanker Daniel Heenan charged over, showing the ball on his outside to winger Mark Gerrard before crashing over Bulls fullback Johan Roets to score.


Mortlock converted again to give the Brumbies a 20-15 lead.


In a major blow for the Brumbies, hooker David Palavi, who had started the match in place of injured Wallaby Jeremy Paul, was stretchered from the field with suspected knee ligament damage in the 58th minute and did not return.


His place was taken by 29-year-old former NSW Country hooker James McCormack, who became the oldest Brumbies debutante since 1996.


Hougaard cut the Brumbies lead back to two with his fifth penalty goal, making the score 20-18 with thirteen minutes left to play.


Both teams defended grimly before the Brumbies were penalised 55m out from their own tryline, giving Hougaard a long range shot at stealing victory for the Bulls with four minutes remaining.


The partisan Loftus crowd let out a defeaning roar as his long range bomb dissected the uprights, seemingly clinching the win for the Bulls.


Then the unthinkable happened. With a little over a minute on the clock, the Brumbies staged one last assault. They moved the ball through the hands, trying to find a hole in the Bulls line before an ill-directed cut-out pass from 100-game veteran Larkham bounced into the arms of replacement winger Joel Wilson.


Wilson made the break and as the clock ticked away, found support in Matt Giteau who stepped through multiple defenders before finding a straight-running Mortlock who carried a defender to over try line to score the match-winner as the siren sounded.


Brumbies players came from all over the field to congratulate the skipper, who had scored what may prove to be the most important Brumbies try this season.
George Smith was awarded Man of the Match for the second straight week. His defensive effort was truly remarkable and as always, he was a constant threat at the breakdown.


Matt Giteau was the standout for the backs, while Mortlock was typically strong in both attack and defence.
The Bulls score of 21 points came entirely from the boot of Derrick Hougaard, with the Brumbies running in three tries to nil.


CA Brumbies 27 (Clyde Rathbone, Daniel Heenan, Stirling Mortlock tries; Mortlock 3 conversions, 2 penalty goals) defeated Bulls 21 (Derrick Hougaard 6 penalty goals, drop goal) at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, SA.