The CA Brumbies have opened their 2007 Super 14 account with a 21-15 first round win over the Chiefs in Hamilton tonight.
The visitors led 10-5 at half time but the Chiefs, notoriously strong finishers, completed the match with a flurry but were unable to wrestle the competition points away from their Canberra-based opponents.
While the CA Brumbies, pitted against a side that featured the majority of the Air New Zealand Cup-winning Waikato side, suffered some early-season rustiness, it was their courage and composure in the final 10 minutes of the match that sealed their two-tries-to-three victory.
CA Brumbies head coach Laurie Fisher said he was delighted to begin the season with a win.
“I’m exceptionally pleased,” he said. “It’s always tough winning in New Zealand. The Chiefs, through some good Air New Zealand Cup-form with Waikato, were very prepared and it’s a fantastic start to the year for us.
“We don’t have a great track record over here and it’s really, really pleasing to get off to a start like that. We played some good football and the players showed a lot of courage. It’s a really good launching pad for the early part of the season.”
While both teams were victims of early season rustiness, the CA Brumbies displayed enough strong individual performances, a willingness to spread the football and a steeled defensive performance to suggest that they will again be a force in this season’s provincial competition.
Lock Mark Chisholm was at his rampaging best contributing two incisive 35-plus metre busts during the match while No.8 Stephen Hoiles made an impressive debut for the CA Brumbies with a high work rate and tireless defensive effort.
In the absence of flyhalf Stephen Larkham, who remained in Canberra following the birth of his second daughter, Julian Huxley continued on from his outstanding pre-season form in the playmaking role, giving width to the CA Brumbies’ backline while continually making ground with his ranging right boot.
“I think [Huxley’s kicking game] was massively important for us,” Fisher said. “Some of the metres he chewed up for us on the kick were very telling. He had an absolutely magnificent kicking game and I think he was the class kicker out on the field. I think it was tremendous for us to get comfortably out of our ‘D’ zone to the halfway mark or beyond and then put some pressure on the Chiefs’ lineout.”
Huxley’s goalkicking proved critical in the second half, successfully converting two penalty goals including a long-range, 55-metre attempt seven minutes after the break. In contrast, goal kicking proved costly for the Chiefs with flyhalf Stephen Donald missing three conversions and one penalty attempt.
The CA Brumbies were first onto the scoreboard just four minutes into the match when Stirling Mortlock sliced through Anthony Tahuna and Dwayne Sweeney, taking his personal career points tally against the Chiefs passed 100 points.
In a night of milestones, that saw Tim Wright become the 100th capped CA Brumby, Jeremy Paul celebrated his 100th Super Rugby cap with a victory in his birth city.
Paul became the eighth Super Rugby player and fourth CA Brumby to reach the century. Fisher said it was important to have such experienced players involved in the side.
“It’s wonderful for the team,” he said. “When you’ve got five players debuting tonight and others with that tremendous experience, it’s a perfect mix and it’s a real benefit to the younger guys coming through. One of the great things about our long-standing players is the knowledge they share with the younger guys and the desire to continue to make the Brumbies successful long after they’ve gone. It’s a good mix for us and in those tight matches it’s very important to have those cool heads who’ve played a lot of rugby.”
Clyde Rathbone was the other tryscorer for the CA Brumbies when Huxley, George Smith and Chisholm combined to send the South African-born flyer down the right-hand flank for an unimpeded 20-metre run to the tryline early in the second half.
Referee Mark Lawrence patrolled the breakdown closely, sending opposing flankers Smith and Marty Holah to the sideline with a yellow card for first-half ruck infringements.
Chiefs captain Jono Gibbes was the other to fall foul of Lawrence when he received a ten-minute spell following a high tackle on Mark Gerrard.
While the CA Brumbies’ winger was unfazed by the incident, he left the field with eight minutes remaining after suffering suspected medial ligament damage.
CA Brumbies 21 (Stirling Mortlock, Clyde Rathbone tries; Stirling Mortlock conversion, penalty goal, Julian Huxley 2 penalty goals) defeated Chiefs 15 (Sosene Anesi 2 tries; Lelia Masaga try) at Waikato Stadium.
Referee: Mark Lawrence (SA)
Half time: 10-5
1. Nic Henderson
2. Jeremy Paul
3. Guy Shepherdson
4. Alister Campbell
5. Mark Chisholm
6. Julian Salvi
7. George Smith
8. Stephen Hoiles
9. George Gregan
10. Julian Huxley
11. Mark Gerrard
12. Gene Fairbanks
13. Stirling Mortlock ©
14. Clyde Rathbone
15. Adam Ashley-Cooper
16. Saia Faingaa
17. Salesi Ma’afu
18. Adam Wallace-Harrison
19. Jone Tawake
20. Richard Stanford
21. Tim Wright
22. Matt Carraro
4. Al Campbell replaced by 18. Adam Wallace-Harrison (52nd minute)
14. Clyde Rathbone replaced by 22. Matt Carraro (55th minute)
6. Julian Salvi replaced by 19. Jone Tawake (58th minute)
1. Nic Henderson replaced by 17. Salesi Ma’afu (68th minute)
11. Mark Gerrard replaced by 21. Tim Wright (72nd minute)
2. Jeremy Paul replaced by 16. Saia Faingaa (75th minute)
5. Mark Chisholm replaced by 20. Richard Stanford (75th minute)
Yellow cards: George Smith (27th minute)
1. Simms Davison
2. Tom Willis
3. Nathan White
4. Jono Gibbes ©
5. Kristian Ormsby
6. Steven Bates
7. Marty Holah
8. Liam Messam
9. Jamie Nutbrown
10. Stephen Donald
11. Anthony Tahana
12. Tane Tu'ipulotu
13. Niva Ta'auso
14. Sosene Anesi
15. Dwayne Sweeney
16. Aled de Malmanche
17. Ben Castle
18. Toby Lynn
19. Tanerau Latimer
20. Brendon Leonard
21. Tasesa Lavea
22. Lelia Masaga.
Jono Gibbes (14th minute)
Marty Holah (34th minute)
Super 14 Week Two
CA Brumbies v Blues at Canberra Stadium
Saturday, 10 January, 2007