Brumbies just make it home

It went to the wire, but some ill-discipline of the Force finally cost them a crucial penalty and the game, the Brumbies winning 14-12 in Canberra on Friday.

The clash was a typically hard, but yet uninspiring, all-Australian Super 14 derby.

The home side – who were well below par on the night – will be breathing a big sigh of relief after emerging victorious, having been put off their game by the tough-tackling men from Perth, who had four Matt Giteau penalties to show for their efforts on the night.

It certainly was a dramatic improvement from the Super Rugby newboys, who shipped 117 points against the Crusaders and the Chiefs in New Zealand over the past two weeks. But they will still be a heart-broken bunch after coming so close… eventually losing out to a Mark Gerrard penalty in the 79th minute.

Giteau had earlier punished a Brumbies scrum indiscretion in the 76th minute, putting his team back in the lead for the first time since late in the first half, only for a brain explosion from Force hooker Tai McIsaac to hand the lead straight back to the home side.

The Brumbies came back calmly from Giteau’s penalty, they moved the ball left where McIsaac bowled Stephen Larkham over in an unccessary late tackle. Referee Stuart Dickinson should not be messed with at the best of times, but the penalty was a no-brainer, with Gerrard graciously accepting the opportunity to atone for an earlier error when he was off-sides from a kick in the lead-up to the scrum that produced what looked like the winning penalty.

The full-time hooter went soon after Gerrard’s penalty and one could see the relief in the faces of the Brumbies, whose semi-final hopes remain very much alive after this victory, although they would not mind the Chiefs (against the Sharks) and the Bulls (against the Lions) losing tomorrow…

But back to this game; a match which the Force began at a furious pace, winning an early penalty which former Brumby Giteau – much to the Canberra crowd’s disapproval – hoofed into touch. Nothing, however, seems to bother the halfback-cum-inside centre, who soon slotted his first penalty of the night for a 3-0 lead after four minutes.

Huxley levelled things after 14 minutes, shortly after his team’s first serious assault on the Force line, but the visitors repelled their hosts, Giteau adding his second penalty eight minutes later when Brumbies No.6 Jone Tawake was penalised at the breakdown.

At 3-6 down the Brumbies eventually began to play some rugby, with Larkham pulling the playmaking strings and No.8 Stephen Hoiles running off him well. One such move led to Gene Fairbanks slipping a pass to the hard-running Hoiles, who burst into the Force 22; a brave tackle from fullback Drew Mitchell eventually pulling him down and keeping the Brumbies at bay.

The Brumbies’ hopes would have been raised when Force skipper Nathan Sharpe was sin-binned in the 25th minute for going off-sides, after numerous warnings from Dickinson, but the Force still managed to keep the Brumbies at bay. Worse was to follow when outside centre Ryan Cross was also yellow-carded – although he and Sharpe virtually swapped seats in the sin bin – but eventually the Force’s defensive wall dropped its guard briefly, allowing Brumbies hooker Jeremy Paul to burrow his way over for the opening try. Dickinson consulted TMO Andrew Lindsay before awarding the score, with Huxley’s missed conversion leaving the home team ahead by 8-6 at the break.

The second half was all Brumbies – in direct contrast to the opening spell of the first half. Huxley extended his team’s two-point lead after seven minutes, nudging them ahead by another three points, before the Force eventually got their paws on the ball shortly before the advent of the final quarter of the game.

Giteau wasted no time to chip away at the lead, making it 9-11 with 20 minutes left, before some nervous moments for both t

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