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UNIVERSITY OF CANBERRA BRUMBIES 33 (Joseph Tomane 2, Michael Hooper tries Christian Lealiifano 3 cons 4 pens) bt HIGHLANDERS 26 (Aaron Smith, Shaun Treeby tries Colin Slade 2 cons Slade 2, Chris Noakes pens drop goal) at Canberra Stadium. Referee: Lourens van der Merwe. Crowd: 12,269.
Two tries to a flying Joe Tomane have handed the University of Canberra Brumbies a 33-26 win over the competition-leading Highlanders at Canberra Stadium, Saturday night.
In a highly physical encounter that saw All Black Colin Slade carried off with a badly broken leg, the University of Canberra Brumbies managed to dominate the breakdown and claim plenty of ball from set-piece against what shaped as the best forward pack in Super Rugby.
Man of the Match Michael Hooper was in everything, claiming plenty of loose ball for his team and securing a try of his own deep into the second half. Despite being in his third year of professional rugby, Hooper remains the side’s youngest player and will almost certainly come into Robbie Deans calculations later in the year should his strong form continue.
For a side written off by most at the start of the year as too young to be successful, the University of Canberra Brumbies remained composed and patient throughout the testing encounter, taking their chances when they arose despite having just 30 percent of possession in the opening half.
Led by world-class forwards like Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh and James Haskell, the Highlanders had their chances but couldn’t keep enough momentum to come away with a win.
University of Canberra Brumbies Head Coach Jake White was impressed with the way his side played against a side that had previously been unbeaten in 2012.
“They’re top of the log, they were unbeaten so obviously it’s one of our best results so far,” White said.
“I don’t want to sound too cliché about it, but it really is one game at a time for us, I’m just really proud that whatever we learnt last week we put into practice this week.
“We have exactly the same chances to finish the game out last week and they took those lessons into the game against the Highlanders. That really impressed me.”
The scoring opened after just four minutes, with speedster Tomane snatching an intercept against the run of play, then darting 80 metres to score. It was the former league star’s first touch of the game, first try in Super Rugby and first glimpse of the brilliance he displayed in rugby league.
A drop goal to Slade two minutes later had the Highlanders back with a sniff, but Tomane wasn’t done burning the left touchline, this time finding himself on the end of some quality work from the inside backs to score his second of the game.
Again Lealiifano was successful with his conversion attempt and the University of Canberra Brumbies had a healthy, 11-point lead with 17 minutes of the first half played.
Lealiifano was again superb in attack, slicing through the Highlanders defence minutes later before attempting to link with Stephen Moore. Moore was ruled to have been tackled early, allowing Lealiifano to finish the move with points.
With that penalty the University of Canberra Brumbies held a 17-3 lead and looked the more likely team to grind out a hard fought victory.
The Highlanders were not without opportunities in the first half. Their back three of Kade Pokie, Hosea Gear and Ben Smith counter attacked beautifully putting the University of Canberra Brumbies kickers and defensive line under pressure on numerous occasions.
Scum-half Aaron Smith, a talented youngster who has kept Jimmy Cowan on the bench all year, produced the Highlanders highlight of the first half with a quick dart through traffic, ducking under a high tackle to register his side’s first try of the evening.
Another penalty to Lealiifano padded the score for the University of Canberra Brumbies going into the break, 20-13.
The Highlanders were the first side to score after the break, World Cup winner Slade knocking over three points for a line-out infringement to keep his side in the fight, 20-16. His shot at goal was followed by the Highlanders second try when Shaurn Treeby darted across to pull his side back into the game.
Slade’s conversion will almost certainly be the last point-scoring he does for 2012 after breaking both bones in his lower-leg and being rushed into surgery. It has been an unlucky run for Slade, who had just returned from two broken jaws suffered in the last 12 months.
For the next 20 minutes, both teams absorbed plenty of pressure allowing their opposition to penetrate into enemy territory. It was on one of these raids that Man of the Match Michael Hooper showed his quality scooping up a loose ball to score the most important try of his career.
It gave the University of Canberra Brumbies a seven point lead at 33-26 with 10 minutes to play. And although they were pressured by the Highlanders, the University of Canberra Brumbies managed to hold on for a seven-point win to go top of the Australian Conference.
University of Canberra Brumbies
1. Ben Alexander
2. Stephen Moore
3. Dan Palmer (replaced by Ruaidhri Murphy)
4. Leon Power
5. Sam Carter
6. Peter Kimlin (replaced by Scott Fardy)
7. Michael Hooper
8. Ben Mowen
9. Ian Prior
10. Christian Lealiifano
11. Joe Tomane
12. Pat McCabe
13. Andrew Smith
14. Henry Speight
15. Jesse Mogg
16. Anthony Hegarty
17. Ruaidhri Murphy
18. Scott Fardy
19. Ita Vaea
20. Nic White
21. Zack Holmes
22. Tevita Kuridrani