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A penalty after the siren has sealed a three-point win for the University of Canberra Brumbies, with Christian Lealiifano landing the shot from 40 metres to sink the Bulls 23-20 on Saturday night.
In a Canberra Stadium slugfest, the Brumbies managed to cling to victory having held the lead up until the 78th minute. A Bulls try to winger J.J.Engelbrecht with two minutes to go looked to have settled the account with a draw but the Pretorians were penalised off the kick-off handing Lealiifano a chance to put them away.
The kick, which never looked like missing, had Brumbies fans reminiscing of Lealiifano’s 2012 match-winner against the Cheetahs at the same venue.
The Bulls played their signature style of grind-it-out rugby, putting all their effort into field position and penalties to keep the score ticking over. But unlike last week against the Stormers, the University of Canberra Brumbies managed to adjust their own game accordingly, eventually grinding the Bulls into submission for the first time since 2010.
“I thought at 20-13, with four minutes to play when we had a line-out in their half, after we really defended well and got a turnover on the edge, that would be enough to win it,” Head Coach Jake White said.
“That really reaffirms how tough this competition is, when you think you’ve got it won with minutes to go, but it’s not like that.
“I guess what I’m really proud of is that this team has shown that we can win the tight ones, that’s always a bonus. This may not have been our best rugby and as a coach you’re never fully satisfied, but to grind out a win like that is still pleasing.”
Lealiifano, Tevita Kuridrani and Scott Sio were the best for the Brumbies, with the bullocking prop walking away as Man of the Match. It was Sio’s third start in as many games providing valuable experience for the side’s youngest front-rower. Set to start from the bench, Sio replaced Ben Alexander in the starters jersey with the Wallaby tight-head suffering a virus in the backend of the week.
The Brumbies scrum came in for special praise, driving the Bulls pack all over the park. Referee Jonathon White blew the Pretorian forwards off the field and eventually binned prop Morne Mellett to the delight of the 13,735 fans on hand.
Forget the running of the Bulls, Saturday night’s effort showed a more sluggish side to the ferocious bovine beasts as they fought tooth and nail for every inch of territory Canberra Stadium has to offer.
The Bulls game plan to grind the Brumbies down was evident from the outset. Two tough shots at goal from both Morne Steyn and Nic White were waved away early but the Brumbies eventually opened the scoring with Lealiifano nailing three points from in front.
Steyn levelled soon after, but the Bulls were chopped back with Lealiifano nailing another two before the break. With the oranges cut and halftime beckoning, Robbie Coleman launched from close range, reaching out to score the Brumbies only try with just seconds remaining until the buzzer.
A try in the corner to Bulls flyer Jurgen Visser gave the visitors home, but that was dashed with more shots on goal to Lealiifano who ended the night with six from seven.
The Bulls worked hard to get back into the match and looked certain for a late draw, with Engelbrecht showing some electric pace to keep his side in touch.
But with Nic White holding the ball at the breakdown from the ensuing kick-off, Lealiifano stepped up to keep the Brumbies at the top of the table heading into round eight of the competition.
University of Canberra Brumbies 23 (Robbie Coleman try Christian Lealiifano 6 pens) bt Bulls 20 (JJ Engelbrecht, Jurgen Visser tries Morne Steyn 2 cons 2 pens) at Canberra Stadium. Referee: Jonathan White. Crowd: 13,735
University of Canberra Brumbies
1. Scott Sio
2. Stephen Moore
3. Dan Palmer (replaced by Ben Alexander)
4. Scott Fardy
5. Etienne Oosthuizen (replaced by Fotu Auelua)
6. Peter Kimlin
7. George Smith
8. Ben Mowen
9. Nic White
10. Matt Toomua
11. Joe Tomane
12. Christian Lealiifano
13. Tevita Kuridrani
14. Henry Speight
15. Robbie Coleman
16. Siliva Siliva
17. Ben Alexander
18. Fotu Auelua
19. Colby Faingaa
20. Ian Prior
21. Andrew Smith
22. Clyde Rathbone