The ACT Brumbies snapped a 10-year losing streak in Sydney yesterday when they beat the New South Wales Waratahs 19-15, boosting their hopes of a place in Super Rugby's post-season play-offs.
The Waratahs led by six points heading into the final quarter, but a 61st-minute try from the Brumbies winger Henry Speight and a Jesse Mogg penalty eased the pressure. The visitors' defence kept the home side scoreless until the final whistle.
The result saw the Brumbies retain their five-point lead over the Queensland Reds, the Super Rugby champions, in the Australian conference. The Canberra-based team should seal the title in the final round next week, when they return home to face the lowly Blues from Auckland.
Berrick Barnes was one of the few bright spots of a disappointing night for the Waratahs. The Wallaby playmaker set up his team's first try, scored by the barnstorming hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, with a quick tap from a penalty in the 31st minute. However, the hosts were made to pay for indiscipline, and allowed three penalty goals that saw the Brumbies go in at half-time with a 9-5 lead.
Barnes spun out of two tackles and collided with one of the uprights before slamming the ball over the line in the 57th minute, to put the Waratahs 13‑9 in front.
The Brumbies responded four minutes later with the fly-half Zack Holmes hurling a long ball wide to Speight, who danced around a tackler on the right touchline and cantered over near the right corner. In the 64th minute Mogg, from 35 metres out on a tight angle, curled his penalty kick back just enough to give the hosts a four-point lead that was then defiantly defended.
"It wasn't exactly the victory we were after... but there's quality across that [Waratahs] pack," said the Brumbies captain Ben Mowen. "I'm really proud of these guys, we keep breaking these hoodoos... I thought our defence was much improved from the week before. It's good now, because we can say one game [to go] and then finals."
The winners of the Australia, New Zealand and South Africa conferences automatically qualify for the play-offs of the southern-hemisphere provincial competition, while the next best three teams in the overall standings also go through.
In South Africa yesterday, Elton Jantjies held his nerve to land a late conversion and a penalty as the Lions overcame a fierce second-half fightback from the Melbourne Rebels to win 37-32.
Neither side had anything to play for regarding the play-offs and only a handful of fans turned up at Ellis Park in Johannesburg to watch the Lions' final home game of a desperately disappointing season. However, the Currie Cup champions rewarded the sparse crowd with a rare victory, giving them a chance of avoiding last place.
James Hilgendorf's contentious try had given the Rebels a slender lead going into the final 15 minutes of the match, but Jaco Kriel dived over for the Lions with a little more than five minutes left before Jantjies made sure of the win with a penalty.