The CA Brumbies have given George Gregan, Stephen Larkham and Jeremy Paul a memorable home send-off with a euphoric 15-6 win over the top-of-the-table Crusaders at Canberra Stadium tonight.
With their season on the line, the ACT-based side kept their semi-final hopes alive with a gritty win that saw the Crusaders kept tryless for the second time this season.
After the match, the departing trio spent more than an hour-and-a-half on a lap of honour, signing autographs for the patient CA Brumbies’ supporters.
Gregan, who was honoured with the naming of the Gregan-Larkham Stand prior to the match, said he was pleased to have the opportunity to spend the time with the Canberra public.
“It’s just a nice way to give something back to the supporters who’ve been coming here since day one,” he said. “They’ve supported us every time we’ve played here and it’s nice to be able to do that. I think after games you always clap [the crowd] and move on but it’s nice to go in there and thank them because it’s the last time I’ll play here – it was the least I could do.”
With rain falling prior to the match, there were fears that the greasy conditions would play into the visitors’ hands. However, the CA Brumbies remained composed, playing a largely territory-based game and taking any points on offer.
With ball thieves Richie McCaw, George Smith, Julian Salvi and Stephen Hoiles working overtime, converting possession onto the scoreboard was critical with Daniel Carter, Striling Mortlock and Julian Huxley registering penalty goals throughout the match.
In an intense affair, field position was the order of the day with Carter and Leon MacDonald, and Larkham, Huxley and Mark Gerrard splitting points in the vital kicking dual.
Larkham said the pre-match rain prevented a high-scoring affair.
“We’re probably a dry weather team and tonight we played the conditions quite well with our shorter passes and trying to play it through the forwards,” he said. “Our forwards again stepped up and there were some stand-out performances in our pack which is what’s happened over the last five weeks and why we’re on a bit of roll now.”
“We certainly tried to run the ball at every opportunity but the conditions didn’t allow us to score any tries. Their defence was very good and I think our defence was outstanding; the communication we had and even when they made some linebreaks we were able to clean it up quite well.”
The Crusaders produced the two most likely try-scoring opportunities of the first half, only to have Scott Hamilton denied by a desperate Adam Ashley-Cooper tackle while Huxley, Gerrard and Gregan combined to prevent Aaron Mauger crossing three minutes from the break.
While Carter was first to register points in the second term, the Crusaders continued to struggle with the CA Brumbies’ defensive line speed and ferocity in the tackle.
A Ben Franks high tackle on CA Brumbies lock Mark Chisholm resulted in another Mortlock penalty, before the Crusaders launched their most promising campaign into the CA Brumbies’ quarter with 10 minutes remaining.
But despite stringing together multiple phases on the CA Brumbies’ line, the Crusaders were robbed of a crucial possession when Nic Henderson and Stephen Hoiles combined to strip the ball off Canterbury hooker Corey Flynn with the try line beckoning.
The CA Brumbies responded by working the ball up-field before Larkham calmly slotted a 20-metre drop goal to afford his side a match-winning nine-point buffer.
Carter was given the opportunity to draw the Crusaders’ score within six points of the CA Brumbies for a bonus point on full time, only to have his penalty attempt waved away.
Paul, who was awarded man of the match after a solid set piece performance and carrying the ball across the advantage line all night, said he was very satisfied with the win.
“Tonight was a finals game,” he said. “That’s why we love playing against the Crusaders because they bring the best out of you. I think a lot of guys stood up tonight – our unsung heroes like George Smith and Stephen Hoiles. Having Stirling [Mortlock] back was a massive boost for the side, not only for the way he plays but also for the way he leads the side. The pleasing thing about that win was that it was three old blokes following the lead of the young blokes with their enthusiasm and they played really well.”
CA Brumbies head coach Laurie Fisher was pleased to see his senior trio of Gregan, Larkham and Paul leave Canberra Stadium with a win.
“That’s the least they deserve after their years of dedication they’ve given,” he said. “So we certainly wanted to leave them out there to play the final minutes in a winning game at Canberra Stadium.
“They’ve certainly been magnificent for the Brumbies over many years. It’s not just the qualities they bring on the park but their ongoing contribution to the culture of the Brumbies is magnificent. The legacy of their professionalism and how they go about conducting their rugby careers is a good lesson to all players.”
CA Brumbies 15 (Stirling Mortlock 3 penalty goals, Julian Huxley penalty goal, Stephen Larkham drop goal) defeated Crusaders 6 (Daniel Carter 2 penalty goals) at Canberra Stadium.
Referee: Marius Jonker (SA)
Half time: CA Brumbies 9-3
1. Nic Henderson
2. Jeremy Paul
3. Guy Shepherdson
4. Adam Wallace-Harrison
5. Mark Chisholm
6. Jone Tawake
7. George Smith
8. Stephen Hoiles
9. George Gregan
10. Stephen Larkham
11. Mark Gerrard
12. Gene Fairbanks
13. Stirling Mortlock ©
14. Adam Ashley-Cooper
15. Julian Huxley
16. Saia Faingaa
17. Salesi Ma’afu
18. Richard Stanford
19. Julian Salvi
20. Patrick Phibbs
21. Peter Playford
22. Francis Fainifo
12. Gene Fairbanks replaced by 21. Peter Playford (30th minute)
6. Jone Tawake replaced by 19. Julian Salvi (48th minute)
1. Ben Franks
2. Corey Flynn
3. Campbell Johnstone
4. Ross Filipo
5. Michael Paterson
6. Reuben Thorne
7. Richard McCaw ©
8. Mose Tuiali’i
9. Kevin Senio
10. Daniel Carter
11. Caleb Ralph
12. Aaron Mauger
13. Casey Laulala
14. Scott Hamilton
15. Leon MacDonald
16. Ti’I Paulo
17. Ben May
18. Kieran Read
19. Johnny Leo’o
20. Andrew Ellis
21. Stephen Brett
22. Rico Gear
Richard McCaw (28th minute)
Investec Super 14 Week 14
CA Brumbies v Highlanders in Dunedin, New Zealand
Saturday, 5 May, 2007