CANBERRA, February 21 – Wallaby skipper Stirling Mortlock landed a conversion after the fulltime siren to clinch a 18-16 Super 14 rugby win for the ACT Brumbies over defending champions Canterbury Crusaders here Saturday.
The under-strength seven-time southern hemisphere provincial champions, missing skipper Richie McCaw along with several other key All Blacks, looked as if they would courageously hang on for victory before the Brumbies’ last-ditch intervention.
Wallaby back Mark Gerrard crossed over wide out after the Brumbies’ relentless attacks peppered the Crusaders’ try-line, giving Mortlock the chance to kick the Brumbies to victory.
Mortlock hooked in his conversion attempt from the right touchline to break the Crusaders’ hearts after they had tackled themselves to a standstill, repelling concerted second-half attacks from the home side.
The Brumbies are proving themselves the masters of brinkmanship this season, having beaten the Otago Highlanders 33-31 with a late drop goal the previous weekend in Dunedin.
But the Crusaders lost no friends with their disciplined tackling, with the Brumbies enjoying 60 percent of the possession and camped in the opposition’s quarter for almost eight minutes of the match.
The Crusaders displayed their outstanding player depth when they rose to the task without All Black skipper McCaw, lock Brad Thorn and fullback Leon McDonald as well as losing experienced hooker Corey Flynn with a first-half injury.
They capitalised on two Brumbies mistakes to cash in on their tries, with exciting centre Casey Laulala swooping on George Smith’s blind flick pass and racing over from halfway in the 18th minute for the early lead.
Young Brumbies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano backed up Smith’s break for the home side’s first try in the 33rd minute, but the Crusaders went to halftime leading 11-8 after a Stephen Brett penalty.
Mortlock levelled with a 54th minute penalty, but Lealiifano’s clearing kick was charged down by Colin Slade minutes later for lock Ross Filipo to score in the corner.
Filipo’s try looked to have clinched the four competition points for the Kiwis as they hustled the Brumbies into mistakes with their swarming defence.
Just when they were within sight of a deserved victory against the odds, they were denied by Gerrard’s equalising try and Mortlock’s match-winning conversion.
The Brumbies stretched their home record over the Crusaders to six wins in nine meetings at Canberra Stadium.
The Brumbies will have a home Australian derby game next Saturday against Western Force, while the Crusaders take on the Wellington Hurricanes in Christchurch on Friday.