The CA Brumbies have done everything in their power to keep their Investec Super 14 season alive with a 29-10 bonus-point win over the Highlanders at Carisbrook tonight.
Following wins to the Chiefs and Blues on Friday night, the ACT-based side required a bonus-point win by a margin of 11 or more to have any chance of progressing to the 2007 finals series. The CA Brumbies now require the Queensland Reds to defeat the Bulls in Pretoria tomorrow (Sunday) morning to qualify for the play-offs.
After jumping out to a 22-3 half-time lead, courtesy of three first half tries, the CA Brumbies waited until well into injury time to score the critical fourth try when Mark Chisholm charged over from short range.
CA Brumbies head coach Laurie Fisher said he was pleased to take five competition points from Carisbrook, a venue where his side had not won in 12 years.
“We were probably a little disappointed that we didn’t score the fourth try a little earlier in the second half at a place where we haven’t won in the history of Super Rugby,” he said. “To have such a comprehensive first half on the back of some disappointing results last night and for the boys to get up mentally for the game is a credit to the players that they fronted and played some pretty good rugby.”
The importance of the bonus point was apparent from the outset when the CA Brumbies refused several opportunities for straightforward first-half penalty goals, preferring to try their luck against the Highlanders defence.
The move paid dividends after nine minutes when fullback Julian Huxley found himself on the end of an expansive backline move before bumping off Lucky Mulipola and carrying Charlie Hore across the line to score.
The Highlanders line had barely time to reset when the visitors were in again. After receiving the kick-off, flyhalf Stephen Larkham immediately spread the ball to Mortlock who found winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, who set sail for one of the best individual tries of the season. The robust flyer pushed through the tackle of Hore and fended off Mulipola before carrying half Jimmy Cowan across the line for an excellent 75-metre touchdown.
The CA Brumbies’ commitment to play expansive rugby reaped a third five-pointer seven minutes prior to the break when captain Stirling Mortlock busted through a Jason Kawau tackle, juggled the ball before regathering and placing it down in the one motion to score.
Determined to farewell Highlanders legends Anton Oliver, Josh Blackie and Carl Hayman on a good note, the home side began manufacturing a spirited comeback through the second term.
Denied a majority of possession, the Highlanders tackled themselves to a standstill before Kawau crossed out wide in the 73rd minute.
The CA Brumbies, determined to score a fourth of their own, were handed a prized opportunity with two minutes remaining only to see Chisholm fumble the ball 20 metres from the line. However, the Highlanders’ resolve to score after the full-time siren serendipitously handed the brawny forward his chance to make amends; Chisholm unstoppable as he steamed through two Highlanders’ tackles for the final try.
Mortlock said he was happy with his side’s performance in registering a record sixth consecutive win for the province.
“I’ve been really impressed with the character that this team has shown during the evolution of this season,” he said. “Despite our results for the last three or four weeks you would have thought that consistently winning would have jumped us up the ladder and into the top four. But hopefully the rugby gods can smile on us and the Reds can pull off the impossible and beat the Bulls in Pretoria, which is extremely tough. But I think that every single bloke in our change room can hold their head up high and be proud of the effort we put in this year.”
Retiring scrumhalf George Gregan, who was forced from the field at half time after twisting his ankle, said the win augurs well for the future of the CA Brumbies.
“There’s a great maturity in this team,” he said. “Everyone was aware what we needed to do especially after last night, and everyone locked into doing it. It was just very, very professional. That’s a very good sign for the team not just for tonight but for the team moving forward into the next few years.”
Larkham, who converted Chisholm’s try in his final regular-season Super 14 match, said the CA Brumbies maintained their composure to take the win after the siren.
“It seemed to be a five-minute game of off-side touch which was non-stop,” he said. “In hindsight we’re very happy that Otago tried to score the try, and Mark Gerrard’s tackle at the end to knock the ball out was superb. But to get another opportunity when guys were out on their feet, and while it was very frustrating for us not being able to score the try, full credit to the guys who stood up and tried that bit extra to get that ball back.”
CA Brumbies 29 (Julian Huxley, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stirling Mortlock Mark Chisholm tries; Stirling Mortlock 2 conversions, penalty goal, Stephen Larkham conversion) defeated Highlanders 10 (Jason Kawau try; Nick Evans conversion, penalty goal) at Carisbrook.
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
Half time: CA Brumbies 22-3
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. Alister Campbell
19. Julian Salvi
20. Patrick Phibbs
21. Peter Playford
22. Francis Fainifo
9. George Gregan replaced by 20. Patrick Phibbs (40th minute)
6. Jone Tawake replaced by 19. Julian Salvi (40th minute)
4. Adam Wallace-Harrison replaced by 18. Alister Campbell (59th minute)
2. Jeremy Paul replaced by 16. Saia Faingaa (70th minute)
3. Guy Shepherdson replaced by 17. Salesi Ma’afu (74th minute)
12. Gene Fairbanks replaced by 22. Francis Fainifo (74th minute)
1. Clarke Dermody
2. Anton Oliver
3. Carl Hayman
4. Filipo Levi
5. Tom Donnelly
6. Josh Blackie ©
7. Alando Soakai
8. Craig Newby
9. Jimmy Cowan
10. Nick Evans
11. Matt Saunders
12. Charlie Hore
13. Jason Kawau
14. Lucky Mulipola
15. James Wilson
16. Jason Macdonald
17. Chris King
18. Hoani Macdonald
19. Ezra Taylor
20. Toby Morland
21. Callum Bruce
22. Glen Horton
Anton Oliver (60th minute)
Investec Super 14 Semi Final