The Brumbies needed maximum points against the Highlanders to keep their season alive, and didn't disappoint in their 31-3 win.
The Brumbies needed maximum points against the Highlanders to keep their season alive, and didn't disappoint in their 31-3 win on Saturday.
The four-try bonus point victory pushes the Brumbies into the top four, knocks the Reds out of semi-final contention and sets up an enormous final round clash against the Crusaders in Christchurch next week.
For a moment it looked like the end of the road for the home side as they searched in vain for that elusive fourth five-pointer. It finally came in the 78th minute after Matt Toomua's sniping step and dash for the line salvaged the result and allowed his team-mates, the coaching staff and their supporters to breathe a massive sigh of relief.
The Highlanders simply couldn't live with the pace and intensity of the Brumbies' attacking play, and indeed the physicality and organisation of their Australians' defence. The sheer number of tackles they were required to make depleted their defence and, eventually, their resolve.
Rocky Elsom opened the scoring in the thirteenth minute when he took the ball at the back of a line-out and twisted and turned his way through several opponents to cross over.
The lead swelled to 14 points when Salesi Ma'afu barged over three minutes later and Matt Giteau converted, however the Highlanders slowly worked their way back into the contest as they evened up the possession count.
But it failed to translate into points, with Adam Ashley-Cooper pulling off a desperate, last-gasp tackle to deny Highlanders lock Josh Bekhuis what appeared destined to be a certain try.
The Highlanders finally got some points on the board when Israel Dagg nailed a penalty after the half-time siren.
But the Brumbies notched their third try of the night when Toomua sliced through the visitors' defence to pave the way for Josh Valentine to cross.
The Highlanders were reduced to 14 men when Dagg was sin-binned for a cynical knock-down and the Brumbies came close to notching their fourth, only for prop Ben Alexander to be penalised for double movement.
Tyrone Smith then coughed up the ball 5m short of the tryline after a scintillating break and one wondered whether the Brumbies would be the architects of their own demise.
But while they were denied on two occasions, perseverance paid off after a rolling maul stretched the Highlanders' defence and Toomua was able to take full advantage.
Tries: Elsom, Ma'afu, Valentine, Toomua
Cons: Giteau 4
Brumbies: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Tyrone Smith, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Andrew Smith, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Stephen Hoiles (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Mitchell Chapman, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Ben Hand, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Brackin Karauria-Henry, 22 Ed Stubbs.
Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 James Paterson, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Matt Berquist, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Bronson Murray, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Chris King.
Replacements: 16 Peter Mirrielees, 17 Keith Cameron, 18 Joe Tuineau, 19 John Hardie, 20 Scott Cowan, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)