Gerrard leads Brumbies' early onslaught

ACT Brumbies 47 Canterbury Crusaders 38
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The Independent Online

The ACT Brumbies gave their coach, David Nucifora, the perfect send-off on Saturday with victory in the Super 12 final.

Nucifora was in a strange position going into the final here. Regardless of the result, he knew that he would finish the match without a job after being told midway through the season that his contract would not be renewed.

He led the Brumbies to a first-place finish, six points ahead of the Crusaders, in the round-robin portion of the Super 12 and after negotiating the semi-finals, his side started the final in frenetic fashion against the New Zealanders.

Joe Roff forced his way over in the right corner after a mistake by the Crusaders full-back Ben Blair in the first minute of the game. They scored again in the fifth minute when the winger Mark Gerrard dived over in the left corner for his first of three tries.

The hooker Jeremy Paul then plunged over in the 11th minute. Gerrard grabbed his second five minutes later, then fly-half Matt Giteau finished off a long break to dive under the posts and give the Brumbies a 33-0 lead.

"That was the most amazing 20 minutes of football I've ever seen," Nucifora said. "You wouldn't even have dreamed of having a start in a big match like that, and I was pinching myself watching it. We may have let in 40 points in the end, but who cares?"

The victory gave the Brumbies their second southern hemisphere title, having twice lost to the Crusaders in the final, including an agonising one-point defeat four years ago. Their previous success was in 2001.

The Crusaders captain, Reuben Thorne, said his side was slow at the outset. "We had a shocker of a start and against a quality team like this there's no way most sides would ever come back," he said. "But I'm proud of the way the guys did fight back we clawed our way back into it - almost."

Richie McCaw and Aaron Mauger scored tries to cut the deficit to 33-14 at half-time before Gerrard gave the Brumbies breathing space when he completed his hat-trick immediately after the re-start.

The Crusaders gave themselves a sniff of victory when Brad Thorn, Chris King and Casey Laulala all scored second-half tries to close the gap to 12 points with 10 minutes to go. But Roff's second try sealed the victory before Daniel Carter completed a flowing, length-of-the-field movement for the Crusaders after the siren.

The Brumbies will lose four senior players next year, including Roff, whose last try gave him the record for the most tries in Super 12 history, with 57.

ACT Brumbies: Tries Roff 2, Gerrard 3, Paul, Giteau; Conversions Roff 6. Canterbury Crusaders: Tries McCaw, A Mauger, Thorn, King, Laulala, Carter; Conversions Mehrtens, Carter 3.

ACT Brumbies: Young; Roff, Rathbone, Wilson, Gerrard; Giteau, Larkham; Gregan, Paul, Henderson, Chisholm, Samo, Finegan, Smith, Fava. Replacements: Palavi, Shepherdson, Giffin, Tawake, Henjak, Bartholomeusz, Beckett, Drew.

Canterbury Crusaders: Blair; Vunibaka, A Mauger, Carter, Ralph; McIntyre, Marshall; Broomhall, McCaw, Thorne, Jack, Thorn, Somerville, Kopelani, Hewett. Replacements: C Flynn, King, Filipo, Leo'o, Nutbrown, Mehrtens, Laulala.

Referee: A Watson (South Africa).