A first-half hat-trick from Wallaby flanker David Pocock saw the Brumbies to a 31-18 Super Rugby victory over the Highlanders in Canberra on Friday.
The hosts got the job done inside 34 minutes when Pocock crashed over at the tail of a maul and despite not scoring in the second-half, the Brumbies comfortably held on to move clear at the top of the Australian conference.
The Brumbies came out with real intent as they looked to get back to winning ways. And it took them just six minutes to get over, with a handling error from Lima Sopoaga leading to Pocock feeding Henry Speight for a run-in.
7-0 soon became a ten-point lead as visiting centre Richard Buckman failed to roll away on the ground, with Christian Lealiifano on target.
And things got even better for the home side four minutes later as the Highlanders were being outplayed, this time a line-out drive led to Pocock getting over the line. Lealiifano's conversion meant it was now 17-0 with much more to come from the Brumbies and Pocock in the half.
Before that though the Highlanders would finally strike via the boot of Sopoaga after a ruck offence, which sparked a good spell for them.
However, Sopoaga's second penalty to make it 17-6 would be their final score of the opening stanza as then came the Pocock show, with two further tries from the Wallaby flank at the tail of the maul seeing him pick up his hat-trick. Lealiifano's conversions meant it was 31-6.
The Highlanders needed to score first after the turnaround and that was exactly what they did when centre Shaun Treeby powered over from a metre out after a decent period of sustained pressure. That made it 31-13 and in all honesty they needed a second and third score quickly.
Replacement flanker Dan Pryor got that second on 58 minutes when the Highlanders copied the Brumbies maul tactic and despite Sopoaga's miss off the tee, suddenly the gap was down to two scores at thirteen points. The big question now was whether the Brumbies would feel the heat.
They did not as it was the Brumbies who came closest to scoring next as right wing Speight showed good soccer skills en route to the five-metre line. However, he couldn't re-gather with the line in sight as the score remained 31-18 on 67 minutes, before Lealiifano missed a shot.
Despite not scoring a point in the second-half the Brumbies remained comfortable in their game and played smart rugby to see out the match, with the bonus-point having been locked up before the break. For the Highlanders, the task they had left themselves was simply too great.
Tries: Speight, Pocock 3
Con: Lealiifano 4
Tries: Treeby, Pryor
Pen: Sopoaga 2
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Michael Dowsett, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Jordan Smiler, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Rod Iona, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.
Highlanders: 15 Trent Renata, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Richard Buckman, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Pingi Tala'apitaga, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Joe Latta, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Dan Pryor, 22 Josh Renton, 23 Jason Emery.
Referee: Matt O'Brien (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)